TOKYO - McDonald’s is hoping to rebuild credibility, and presumably sales, among Japanese consumers with the latest instalment of an ongoing initiative that invites children to learn to cook burgers in its restaurant kitchens.
The new phase of the 'McAdventure' programme, which has been running for 30 years, is designed to promote a new product called the 'Mogu Mogu Mac'—an ostensibly healthy chicken burger that includes vegetables such as carrots, corn and soybeans.
The campaign will run between 9 and 29 June and will see around 650 restaurants open their doors to children and their families eager to hone their burger-flipping skills. Children will have the chance to wear the McDonald’s uniform and, under staff supervision, cook the burger.
A spokesperson for McDonald's in Japan, Takashi Hasegawa, said that McAdventure offered "children an opportunity to get hands-on experience in working McDonald's restaurants" and that the programme had drawn "favourable responses" from customers. Hasegawa said the latest initiative was aimed not only at children, but also their mothers, who had brought about the creation of the Mogu Mogu Mac by expressing a desire for healthier fast food items for children.
"We hope cooking [under] 'McAdventure with children and parents' provides an opportunity for both children and their parents to experience how fun it is to dine together and eat vegetables," Hasegawa said. "McDonald's hopes many family customers will enjoy eating together by providing an opportunity like this programme."
One marketing industry observer in Tokyo, who wished to remain anonymous, suggested the main aim of the campaign was to win over the most difficult consumer segment to please—mothers—and as a result encourage others to see McDonald’s as healthier and more transparent.
The fast food giant’s perception and sales have been severely dented in Japan, as well as other markets, by food-safety concerns. Last year, it became apparent that McDonald’s Japan had taken delivery of out-of-date meat products from a Chinese food supplier, Shanghai Husi Food Company. The news was followed by further reports of food contamination in the market. Earlier this year, McDonald’s reported a net loss equivalent to more than US$186 million—its first annual loss in over a decade.
Marketing and PR professionals voiced mixed opinions on the move to appeal to families. Shingo Nomura, vice-president of North Asia at The Hoffman Agency, was doubtful that the campaign would serve to improve the brand’s tarnished reputation in the short-term.
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"It is not a bad idea for kids but I’m not sure if it will help them regain credibility, as some customers would not want to see normal people [non-McDonald’s staff] cooking in the kitchen during business hours," added Kaz Maezawa, the head of Naked Tokyo. Maezawa suggested such an initiative could be risky in the world of social media, where people "are looking for something to criticise".
On the other hand, Margaret Key, regional chief operating officer of Burson-Marsteller, who has experience working in the Japanese market, said the move by McDonald’s "is one that should inspire other brands and companies".
"We as communications professionals are consistent in our advice that companies need to be transparent in what they say and do and in this case, McDonald’s invitation of customers into their kitchens is the ideal representation of such transparency," Key said.
In recent years, McDonald’s has made a point globally of taking sceptics behind the scenes in an effort to prove that its production methods are safe. In Japan though, the company faces a considerable challenge in converting people who are increasingly opting for smaller-scale, domestic competition that is often perceived as healthier, such as Mos Burger. The local chain has built its brand by talking openly about the sourcing of its ingredients, which largely come from domestic farms.
As part of a strategy to reinvigorate its brand amid the announcement this year of the closure of more than 130 outlets in Japan, McDonald's recently unveiled plans to remodel up to 230 restaurants by the end of the year.