‘Pay With Lovin’ Draws Criticism

McDonald’s has been turning heads with its new “Pay with Lovin'” promotion this past week. At locations all across the country, select customers get the choice to pay with their Happy Meal with whatever the cashier tells them; a morning coffee and a McMuffin can be paid for with a number of suggestions, from asking another customer to dance, to giving the next person that walks in a hug. While the idea seems like a novel one, if only from afar, in practice it can be nothing short of annoying.

McDonalds has faced a difficult time the past few months. With stock prices flat-lining, the fast food tycoon has chosen to introduce a new CEO on March 1. With chains like Chipotle and Shake Shack coming in to take a significant share of McDonald’s young adult demographic, the company has made a few choices to stay trendy in a changing market. More ingredient transparency to comply with the modern consumers’ need to know exactly what they’re eating, to customizable burgers, a la Chipotle or Qdoba. McDonald’s has also put a significant amount of resources into viral marketing. Spotify ads, Facebook and Twitter post boosts, and billboards across the country have the McDonalds brand plastered on them like a public service announcement.

And then there’s this marketing campaign, which has drawn as much attention as criticism.

Kate Bachelder of the Wall Street Journal writes

“If the “Pay with Lovin’ ” scenario looks touching on television, it is less so in real life. A crew member produced a heart-shaped pencil box stuffed with slips of paper, and instructed me to pick one. My fellow customers seemed to look on with pity as I drew my fate: “Ask someone to dance.” I stood there for a mortified second or two, and then the cashier mercifully suggested that we all dance together. Not wanting to be a spoilsport, I forced a smile and “raised the roof” a couple of times, as employees tried to lure cringing customers into forming some kind of conga line, asking them when they’d last been asked to dance.

The public embarrassment ended soon enough, and I slunk away with my free breakfast, thinking: Now there’s an idea that never should have left the conference room.”

With a Big Mac costing just $3.99, many people are asking a simple question: why? Social media is blowing up with horror stories of employees asking them to dance or call their mother. And while any publicity is good publicity, the fact that some people are terrified to buy an Egg McMuffin for fear that they’ll be publicly embarrassed is keeping customers away from McDonalds.

And consider that the average McDonalds crew member makes $8.25 an hour. On top of the tedium of working in the fast food business, you’re now asked to be a circus-master at 6 in the morning? Getting people to dance around the restaurant isn’t in your job description, and its well above your pay grade.

The idea certainly is a fun new way to get customers excited about their payment options. But it needs tweaking. The demographic that is being usurped by the, what the Wall Street Journal calls “fast-casual” restaurants like Chipotle and Panera, and this gimmick isn’t going to grab that demographic back. For every out-going 25 year old who would rather dance for their burger than pay, there are 15 other customers who would rather not.

McDonalds, and the business marketing world in general could learn a few lessons from this campaign. What’s trendy is trendy not because its forced, but because its desired. People at BL, for instance, go to Chiptole instead of McDonalds because they want “more control over what they’re eating,” (Mrs. Fenstermaker) or they “don’t like fast food.” (Myles Cohen) So, McDonalds, if you want young adults to start going back to McDonalds again, make some changes, don’t throw out gimmicks.