OAKBROOK, IL: McDonald's made "Super Size It" part of every fast-food junkie's vocabulary, but now it's taking away super-sized offerings as it seeks to better position itself in the ongoing obesity debate gripping the US.
McDonald's announced last week it would phase out super-sized fries and drinks in the US by the end of this year. It positioned the move as an operational decision, part of a simplification of its menu.
But observers saw the move as a PR play, especially with a documentary called Super Size Me soon to hit theaters. The film looks at health problems encountered by its director after eating only McDonald's offerings for a month.
McDonald's posted a media statement about its decision March 2, and coverage was immediate and widespread. A Google search the next day turned up 44 pages of stories, some as far away as New Zealand, reporting on the decision.
The company's statement talked about how McDonald's supports a balanced lifestyle, a phrase that has become food-industry shorthand for saying people need to make choices that aren't unhealthy for them.
"It's a bold, progressive move, and an indication of industry leadership," said Robert Goldin, EVP of Chicago foodservice consulting firm Technomic, of the McDonald's decision. "They absolutely will get a lot of favorable press."
Competitors are likely to follow suit, but they won't get the same PR benefit as McDonald's did by going first, Goldin said.
Jennifer English, founder of the Food and Wine Radio Network, said the McDonald's' move will force fast-food chains to redefine what they mean by the term "value" in their PR and marketing efforts.
Until now, McDonald's has been telling people that "value" means getting more food for only a small price increase. Future PR will need to talk about value in terms of nutrition and food quality, English predicted.
Because the decision to downsize its menu got McDonald's a super-sized amount of coverage, it wins our PR Play of the Week.