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McDonald's Revisits Cult of the McRib

Posted by Dale Buss on October 25, 2011 11:54 AM

Among the many things that it has done right lately, McDonald's seems to have figured out the Cult of the McRib. And its new marketing campaign for this fall's return of the McRib boneless-pork sandwich (including a promoted hashtag campaign on Twitter) promises to feed the passion of McRib fans in just the right way.

McRib always has had a loyal following through the decades, but McDonald's was always hesitant to commit to it as a full-time menu item for the masses across the country. But last year, McDonald's added McRib to its national menu for a while for the first time in 16 years and, like producing a silk purse from a sow's ear, McRib spurred a 5% sales increase for November.

This time around, McDonald's has returned McRib to nationwide availability through mid-November — and also added a Facebook game to help the sandwich's rabid fans share their rabidness with one another. "The Quest for the Golden McRib" uses integration with Google Maps to allow customers to "hunt" for one of 10 virtual golden McRibs hidden at McDonald's restaurants around the world.

And because there's probably a big overlap between people who would have time to play this game and fantasy-gamers anyway, McDonald's includes a lot of "weirdly wonderful" characters along the way, including barbeque-loving unicorns and "Viking accountants."

At the same time, McDonald's reportedly is planning to delve further into a type of fast food that also engenders some strong passions — among its competitors. The chain reportedly plans to introduce something called "Chicken McBites" early next year.

McDonald's premium-bite-size-chicken gambit, according to Crain's Chicago Business, aims to help make the chain "the restaurant that consumers choose first for chicken anytime anywhere," an internal memo said. McBites will be "all breast meat" and tasty, the chain's ultimate response to the long-time critique of its McNuggets, which are amalgamated chicken parts. Still, McNugget sales were up nearly 10% over last year in the United States during the third quarter.

Chick-fil-A knows something about creating the passion for chicken that McDonald's wants to emulate and presumably will not be amused by McDonald's efforts to muscle further into all-breast chicken products. KFC and other chicken magnates will also be on notice.

Indeed, McDonald's can only hope that, someday, McBites inspires the same sort of devotion as McRib.

"The McRib has an enthusiastic and dedicated fan base," said Marta Fearon, McDonald's U.S. marketing director, in what could mildly be called an understatement, in a company release. And cleverly, McDonald's is going to give McRib fanatics only so much satisfaction with its return, and only for a while.

"At this time, we can't speculate on [McRib's] return in the future," she teased, "but we hope McRib fans will enjoy it now while it lasts."

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