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What is McDonald’s McRib marketing strategy – creating seasonal trends (8 min read)

McDonald’s seasonal burgers–Burger Drwala in Poland (English: Lumberjack's Burger) and McRib in the US are both seasonal burgers introduced by McDonald’s each year around the holiday season for an unstated and limited period of time.

Lumberjack's Burger is a beef steak with breaded melted cheese, crispy bacon, topped with lettuce, roasted onions and spicy sauce, and served in a fluffy bun. It is a relatively new item on the Polish McDonald’s menu.

McRib is a boneless pork patty sandwich sold periodically in the USA. It is served in a roll and is seasoned with barbecue sauce, onions, and pickles. Both limited-time sandwiches show the success of scarcity marketing. 

?Strategy & Tools

McRib History Timeline

  • 1981 – McRib is invented by René Arend, Executive Chef at McDonald’s
  • 1985 – McRib is removed from McDonald’s menu due to mediocre sales
  • early 1990s – McRib makes occasional appearances in McDonald’s menu in the USA
  • summer 1994 – McRib is used to promote the Flintstones movie; it makes an appearance in the production
  • November 1, 2005 – McRib Farewell Tour is held before the sandwich is removed from the menu for good. That’s a full-blown campaign, with events in select cities in the US, a dedicated website and even a petition for making McRib stay or T-shirts for those ‘activists’. 
  • 2006 – McRib Farewell Tour II is held. Who knew.
  • 2007 – another McRib Farewell Tour is held
  • 2011 – Kanapka Drwala (English: Lumberjack's Burger) is introduced across McDonald’s in Poland
  • 2020 – McRib is sold nation-wide for the first time since 2012 in the US. Previously, the number of participating restaurants was limited to a few states.
  • 2021 – 40th anniversary of McRib

What is McDonald’s McRib marketing strategy - Limited availability

McRib can be bought only at participating locations nationwide for a limited period of time. Media outlets suggest checking in advance if a location actually offers the burger. This style of coverage as well as the fact that the sandwich has limited availability create the feeling of scarcity and urgency, at the same time, increase demand and give the customers the impression of exclusivity. Getting to buy the sandwich provides the feeling of success.

What is McDonald’s McRib marketing strategy?

McDonald’s McRib marketing strategy is about scarcity and limited availability of some positions on their menu. Both sandwiches appear on McDonald’s menus around Christmastime. Although the advertising is never used directly, it does evoke the cozy atmosphere of expectation accumulating up until late December. It is also the peak of the busiest shopping season. As soon as the Christmas frenzy is over, McRib and Kanapka Drwala disappear from the menus – usually around February.

Why is McRib so popular? – grassroot actions & word of mouth

McDonald’s McRib marketing is so popular thanks to the effects of social proof and all that scarcity they create. In the past, Facebook groups such as this McRib fanatics or websites such as www.mcriblocator.com have appeared. They have significantly contributed to the phenomenon of seasonal burgers. They created the hype and increase the sense of scarcity surrounding the product.

It also happens organically. In Poland, people that already ate the Lumberjack’s burger really love it and tell about it to their friends.

McRib marketing strategy – movie appearance & TV advertising

In 1994 McDonald’s partnered with the producers of the Flintstones movie, as they noticed the similarity between McRib and the food eaten in the movie. Rosie O’Donnell from the Flintstones cast made an appearance in the traditional TV ad for the sandwich. 

McRib marketing strategy – event marketing: “McRib Farewell Tour”

The McRib Farewell Tour of 2005 proved to be a successful tool in keeping the interest in the sandwich alive. It was initiated by the marketing company Moroch Partners and supposedly it took a lot of persuasion to finally convince McDonald’s to organize this unconventional activation. The main doubt was the ‘tongue-in-cheek’ character of the campaign, but eventually it did work, showing that companies who don’t take themselves too seriously can win a lot of customer trust. It resulted in keeping the sandwich in the menu, but only as a seasonal option.

The McRib Farewell Tour was a success, resulting in McRib Farewell Tour II (2006) and McRib Farewell Tour III (2007). These roadshows proved so effective that the sandwich was not withdrawn from the menu, but still they reinforced the sense of seasonality. 

McRib NFT

In 2021, to celebrate McRib’s 40th anniversary, McDonald’s created the first McRib NFT. While the non-fungible token cannot replace the saucy sandwich, it is a signal that McDonald’s is opening to the newest technologies and – as the NFT is always available – it reinforces the feeling of demand for the product. Joining the NFT discussion by McDonald’s also shows that they are trying to attract a new demographic – young tech people interested in crypto and other technologies.

Does McRib boost sales?

According to McDonald’s, McRib boosted sales by 4,8% in 2010. McRib always boosts McDonald’s sales because of the sandwich's low price (about $3, depending on the region), and the regularity with which McRib keeps coming back.

Lumberjack's Burger in Poland – winter connotations

The seasonality of Burger Drwala (Lumberjack's Burger) in Polish McDonald’s was initially built around the high calorific value of the sandwich, which is admitted by the Polish CEO. The burger is ideal for cold Polish winters and it is named after lumberjacks – people who are associated with masculinity, resilience and strength, but also who need a lot of energy. In its early years the burger was promoted with unusual activations such as a chopped down billboard in the Warsaw city center.

Lumberjack's Burger

Lumbersexual

A few years after the launch of the Lumberjack's Burger, a phenomenon of lumberjack sexuality emerged for good. Bearded and masculine men in plaid shirts and heavy boots took the stage. This stereotypical portrayal of a strong man became a paragon of masculinity in early to mid-2010s. It must have helped Polish McDonald’s sales that their limited-edition product was named after and associated with lumberjacks in the era of ‘lumbersexuality’. 

Virality

Ever since the launch of the Lumberjack's Burger in Poland, its popularity grew, revealing typical traits of viral marketing. In 2021 Polish media reported that the line for the burger on the day of its launch blocked the streets in the city of Wałbrzych. Other reports informed that the popularity of the burger forced some delivery apps in Poland to temporarily block any restaurateurs other than McDonald’s. Apparently the delivery people were all transferred to handle McDonald’s orders. The stories made the headlines, and the news of Lumberjack's Burger became a topic of public discussion. 

Nowadays, the annual reappearance of the Lumberjack's Burger is a pretext for many websites to use it as a clickbait. The growth surrounding the topic is visible via Google Trends analytic tool. 

Tools
Social media
Display ads
Banner ads
Dedicated websites

?Psychology

Scarcity

The principle explains the success of seasonal McDonald’s products. The more difficult they are to get (e.g. limited, available in selected restaurants or running out of stock), the bigger is the demand. The value ascribed to McRib/Burger Drwala is increasing, because the underlying assumption is they are so good and hence hard to get. Although in fact they are readily available, they generate a lot of interest due to this principle. 

FOMO

People do not want to miss on the deal on McRib/Lumberjack's Burger. They know it is seasonal, and they see other people eat it, which initiates the desire to become one of them and not to stay behind regarding this particular consumer experience. 

Social Proof

McDonald’s created the burgers but in fact, a lot of the hype has been made with satisfied customers that evangelise their circles about the seasonal offer.

In-group Behavior and Herd Mentality

Getting the seasonal McDonald’s sandwich is often seen as a group activity. Moreover, around Christmastime consumers are divided into two groups: those who have tried it and those who still need to catch up. Obviously belonging to the first group is seen as more rewarding and this boosts the need to belong in those who still have not tried the product.

Curiosity Gap

We seek missing information. Once there was a halo around the seasonal burgers, some clients have tried them just out of curiosity.

?Window of Opportunity

McDonald’s has a great reach just because of their position, but the principle behind their seasonal burgers can benefit other businesses, too.

With a limited-time offer, they made their customers engage with the brand while with Farewell Tours, they brought them even closer – to become activists and tell whether McRib should stay or go. That on its own had a viral potential.

Once the tactic proved to be successful, consistency made the offer go viral each year, and each year stronger. Having a scarce product that customers will love and can share with their friends has a huge potential for growth

The case study shows that seasonal products build their popularity around the scarcity principle. McDonald’s has mastered this technique alongside other big companies (Starbucks and their Pumpkin Spice Latte). The biggest opportunity lies in addressing new demographics, which McDonald’s has already started doing by attempting to interest the NFT community with McRib. It is also possible that new variations of the sandwich (such as it is done in Poland) may attract more people to McDonald’s.

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