Why McDonald's doesn't fight social media wars

The home of the Golden Arches has a reason for staying silent in the face of social media attacks by competitors such as Wendy's and Burger King.

It seems Wendy’s can’t stop trolling McDonald’s on social. Burger King, too, attempted to make the Golden Arches the butt of the joke with its #WhopperDetour stunt last month.

Year after year, McDonald’s has been a target for its sassy rivals – an easy one, too, mainly because the brand never defends itself or fights back.

Wendy’s EVP and chief concept and marketing officer, Kurt Kane, even stated that his company goes out of its way to make sure people at McDonald's are "kicking a trash can [in anger] every morning."

So, given the chance, what would McDonald’s say to its red-headed and crowned arch enemies?

Silence, followed by laughter, was all PRWeek could coax out of Jano Cabrera, SVP, U.S. comms, global media and PR for McDonald's.

Cabrera said McDonald’s has never responded publicly or privately to brands that bully. But it has a good reason for keeping mum in the face of its cheeky, mouthy competitors.

The principle McDonald’s has adopted is that no fighter in the history of boxing has ever won simply by blocking punches.

"You have to go on the offense," said Cabrera. "There has to be something you stand for that is appealing. What is the case, proactively, you are making?"

When brands beef with McDonald’s, it’s on the chain’s radar, but not a major focus.

"The nature of leadership brands is you get to a point where you understand real ROI is being mindful of and responsive to competition," he said. "But you don’t stay a leadership brand by simply responding to competition. You do it by continuing to innovate and staying customer-focused."

The onus leadership brands have, he explained, is to lead, and that’s where their focus should be. McDonald’s seeks to be in a position to innovate and have the market respond and catch up.

Amazon and Tesla are two other "leadership brands" Cabrera looks to for inspiration.

"Amazon could get into a tit for tat with other online retailers but, instead, it focuses on, ‘How can we continue to provide value and innovate on our services for our customers?’" he explained. "They would rather focus on the possibility of drone deliveries, new devices they are offering, and other innovations that make the Amazon shopping experience all the better. That is our focus as well."

Electric-carmaker Tesla, meanwhile, is one of the most valuable auto companies in the world, with a stock value greater than Ford Motor Company and General Motors.

"Wall Street sees them that way because they saw the value of electrification before the other major car manufacturers," said Cabrera. "Tesla cares less about tweets from Ford and GM and more about, ‘What are the long-term plans these brands have that intersect with or could possibly overtake us?’"

While Wendy’s is frequently praised for its witty banter on social media, Cabrera asserted that McDonald’s also handles the social space "pretty well."

One major highlight from 2018 was McDonald’s MacCoin campaign, created with help from Golin to celebrate the Big Mac’s 50th anniversary. The physical coins could be used to redeem a free Big Mac in more than 50 countries.

"Our MacCoin campaign, which we did all over the world, had zero advertising dollars behind it," said Cabrera. "There is no doubt in my mind it generated the most buzz of 2018 in terms of intentional planning."

Results for that campaign can be found here.

But Burger King is, once again, trying to steal McDonald’s thunder. On January 18, consumers are welcome to cash in their expired MacCoins at select Burger King locations in Chicago for a free Big King XL Sandwich. The new sandwich, BK claims, has 175 percent more beef than the Big Mac (and no third bun).

When asked what it would take for McDonald’s to retort to the humiliation from its adversaries, he said: "We would know it when we see it."

From a business perspective, if a competitor goes beyond trolling to do something smart and savvy consumers are gravitating towards, that’s more likely to catch McDonald’s attention than a one-off tweet, Cabrera said.

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