Using Twitter to promote the McRib seemed like a no-brainer for McDonald’s. Before the pork sandwich was reintroduced nationally this week, diehard fans were already relying on the social network as an instant notification system. If one spotted the product on the menu of a local store, tweets and retweets would soon be flying from parties like McRibWatch, McRibSandwich, McRibNews or CatchTheMcRib.
McDonald’s decided to stoke the buzz by using Twitter’s new paid-promotions function. For a fee, the system’s operator will put the payer’s tweets atop the search results for a certain word or phrase, or on the list of the network’s hot topics for the day. Each is marked “Promoted” so Twitter peeps know there’s a commercial aspect to the situation.
McDonald’s is using the function to promote tweets that begin "McRib Is Back." So, when I looked at what topics are showing up most often today in my area’s Twitter traffic, I saw "McRib Is Back" topped the list. So far so good, at least from the chain’s standpoint.
Then I clicked on the link to see what had been tweeted about the topic. Sure, there was a notice from McDonald’s about the roll-out, with a link to learn more about the sandwich's first national availability since 1994.
But that’s about as good as it got for the brand.
“McRib is Voldemort's nickname because Creepy Unicorn Blood Fed Cauldron Baby is too long to say,” asserted a party called RABTweets.
“Now with 23% less rat meat,” declared LMalfoy, as in Lucius Malfoy, one of the villains in the Harry Potter books. For reasons that weren’t clear to me, many of the McRib bashers used the popular wizard tale as a point of reference.
There was a second mention of the sandwich being made with unicorn meat, too.
Worst of all for McDonald’s was the entry from a poster who used the ID Jesus_M_Christ, who likened the sandwich to herpes: “Just when you forget about that mofo....BAM! It's back again.”
On two screens of posts, 17 of the 41 tweets were decidedly negative. Many of the others were a marketers dream, but it’s amazing how a bad shout-out can grab your eyeballs.
Granted, the product could have been slagged with or without McDonald’s use of the Promoted function. But you have to wonder if the "Promoted by McDonald’s" notification put more of an edge on the bashers’ comments.
Those of us in the business would probably laud McDonald’s for trying a new promotional medium. But clearly social media is a whole new ballgame, without any of the guarantees and control that usually come with paying for exposure.