Wednesday, 4 February 2015

#CLEANEATING, but hold the McNuggets: McDonald’s answer to Australia’s Hipster Dining Movement

"We provide food that customers love, day after day after day. People just want more of it."
Ray Kroc, Founder, McDonalds

I'm sorry Mr Kroc, but it seems in today's day and age, the glisten of the Golden Arches have begun to fade, with the Australian public beginning to call bluff on this once made statement.

Despite feeding 1.7 million Aussies a day within its 930 restaurants speckled across the country, the global cheeseburger giant has developed what seems to be image problems of its own, with year-on-year domestic sales decreasing. 

Over the past decade, the brand has aimed to reposition itself from associations with greasy-processed burgers  and characters such as "The Cheeseburglar" and "Mayor McCheese"; to being a more nutritional, fresh and socially-aware "restaurant".

However despite this attempt, McDonalds, like many other fast-food franchises in Australia, is now beginning to tackle a different type of epidemic. One that is not only a hot-topic for a number of global-brands, but is also vital in ensuring the overall future sustainability of these businesses.


The Millennial Hipster Starter Pack (Source: The Guardian)

In an age where everyone who wants a voice can have one, Millennial's are a key target for brands that play within the restaurant group and fast/casual food franchise bubble. Born between the 1980's and early 2000’s, this cashed-up market not only have purchasing power, but also a core essence of entitlement (i.e. "me deserve this - me want now!"), due to being more educated and socially aware than any generation before them.

Accordingly, from a restaurant's perspective, they have the immediate and innate ability to empower and influence the direction of what their brand does….

Peer a bit deeper and it comes as no surprise that hipsters were the first and most visible sub-culture to peak out from this generation. Outlaw Consulting, a leading expert on understanding trendsetting youth for companies like Diageo and Nike, sums up these "progressive – creative – witty – stereotyped – bearded 'individuals'" perfectly by featuring this quote on their web site’s home page:

"Everyone wants to be a hipster, which makes being a hipster tricky and nearly obsolete."

Taking this into consideration, the "a-hah!" moment for McDonalds was recognising that the millennial hipster valued "authenticity" in every aspect of their lifestyle – including when deciding where they were to eat. They realised they are hungry to purchase "undiscovered" brands that related to their own values rather mainstream and established brands. Over and above that, they craved "experiences" when dining, rather than the tangible aspects of their meal. By increasing the size and scope of the McDonalds brand and force-feeding the ever-famous Golden Arches into the faces of this market, would purely be a plan of action to ensure the brand self-destructs. After all, the Hipster Mantra involves taking a lot of effort to make it look like you have taken no effort all.

So that's precisely what McDonalds did.

‘The Corner’ by McDonalds Australia (Source: The Guardian)

Looking beyond green-juice-in-mason-jars, five-grain rye breads and brown rice and lentils, McDonalds has opened "The Corner", your classic, cliché hipster led café within Sydney’s inner west suburb and growing hub of gentrification, Camperdown. From face value, it is unassuming from the outside with its branding carrying through solid tones of yellow, black and industrial touches of exposed metals.

Other than a small McCafe logo printed on packaging - the hipster tones include tiled walls, a herb garden, wooden sandwich boards, copious amounts of barista-made coffee, and of course free, WIFI.

Cheeseburgers and fries have been replaced with a number of fresh salads featuring Moroccan roast chicken breast and chipotle pulled pork, brown rice and pumpkin.

Menu items being tested at ‘The Corner’ (Source: Broadsheet)

Despite being positioned as a trial test kitchen for new products within the McDonald's family, it definitely draws question as to whether the future of the multinational brand will be shifting in line with the changes of the broader market's appetite.

With customers now dining to experience and discover restaurants that have a genuine and consistent identity and distinct brand voice; it suggests an essence of success in McDonald's unique-approach in targeting the millennial hipster market.

Although I can't imagine Ronald McDonald swapping his yellow onesie for some skinny jeans and leather jacket just yet, this form customer-centric branding has given Mr Kroc's original statement a new life within this market…  

"We provide food that customers love, day after day after day. People just want more of it."

Truly a reinvention of one of the world’s most iconic brands, however, I guess time will tell with how on point this new venture is and where the future of the McHappy meal heads.

Natasha Menon
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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