A pair of London teenagers decided to have a fun night out: They brought tablecloths, plates, cutlery, and wine glasses to a local McDonald's for a special dining experience. It was very silly, very imaginative, and very public--they also brought a friend along to document the experience and share pictures on Twitter.
There were lots of ways marketers at Mickey D's could have responded and perhaps built this into a promotional opportunity, if they had had the smarts to do so. They could have retweeted the pix of the kids with their elegant table. They could have sponsored a promotion for couples to tweet their own romantic McDonald's dinners. They at least could have offered the teenagers a free beverage. Instead, the teenagers were told to leave. Why? No one has explained, although one of the teens tweeted a hypothesis: "It was just the standard knives and forks. Clearly we were planning to take over the whole of McDonald's, so they had to stop that."
Thanks to the company's humorless, wooden response, the teenagers and their night out have become an international news item--and not one that reflects well on McDonald's. There's a lesson here--actually several lessons--on how not to do social marketing:
1. Expect complete control over social media.
I'd guess everyone reading this piece has already learned that you can't control social media, though apparently McDonald's hasn't. The company wanted today's conversation to be about its new wings. To make sure, it held an event yesterday complete with famous DJs and models and tweeted more than 50 tweets using the hashtag #MightyWings. Nevertheless, a glance at Twitter today shows more tweets about the teenagers' fine dining experiment than about the wings. In a Google News search of McDonald's this story comes up, at least at the moment. The wings are nowhere to be found.
2. Display no sense of humor at all.
To the chain's credit, the store relented and allowed the teenagers to stay after other diners protested their banishment. That was also an opportunity for McDonald's to gently laugh at itself and engage with the teenagers or the Twitterverse in some light-hearted way. Instead, the chain had this to say: "We are aware of the two customers who dined at our Kingston restaurant on Saturday night and are pleased that we were able to offer them an affordable treat." The spokesperson went on to explain that McDonald's offers its own plastic cutlery and that any diners who bring their own should take it away with them when they're done. Snooze.
3. Insult a vocal constituency.
The two teenagers who brought the tablecloth were Cameron Ford and Adam Welland--both boys. "Cheers to my beautiful boyfriend on our special night. Love you Adam," Cameron tweeted with a picture of the two clinking glasses (filled with what looks like soda and a milkshake, respectively).
Today, they're saying on Twitter that they aren't gay. But whether they were play-acting or not, they certainly appeared to be a same-sex couple, and indeed, the gay press has been all over the event. So far, this hasn't led to gay protests or boycotting of McDonald's, but it certainly could.
4. Don't let customers have fun with your product.
Here's what McDonald's has to say about its brand: "Our worldwide operations are aligned around a global strategy called the Plan to Win, which center on an exceptional customer experience--People, Products, Place, Price and Promotion." Besides being ungrammatical and terminally vague, McDonald's mission statement seems designed to ensure that no one could possibly think there's a chance of having fun at one of its restaurants.
But... if Mickey D doesn't want diners to have fun, why the DJs, models, and game-day parties? It reminds me of the "Big Bang Theory" episode where Sheldon invites friends over and they promptly fire up a karaoke machine. "I had to leave," he laments. "They were having fun wrong."