What do you think of, when you think of McDonald's?

For a lot of people, I'll bet it's the McDonald's Big Mac.

Even if you don't actually eat at McDonald's very often, you might even be able to rattle off the ingredients, thanks to their vintage theme song

Over the past couple of years, there have been a lot of menu changes at McDonald's and its competitors. 

  • McDonald's franchisees have been begging for a chicken sandwich to let them compete better with Popeyes and KFC.
  • And McDonald's has been going head to head with Burger King, Wendy's and others to try to expand its breakfast offerings.
  • There's also the rise of plant-based meat substitutes, although so far McDonald's has only offered a Beyond Meat burger at a few McDonald's restaurants in Canada.

Last week, however, McDonald's made what could be a much more strategic, smarter -- and certainly interesting addition to its menu. It's worth taking a look at, if you're an entrepreneur or business leader in any industry.

The new offerings: McDonald's Little Mac and Double Big Mac.

Neither of these is a big menu stretch for McDonald's, as you might imagine.

If the Big Mac is "two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles [and] onions on a sesame seed bun," the Little Mac is the same thing, only with just one beef patty.

The Double Big Mac? Four beef patties.

McDonald's started rolling the whole thing out nationwide last week, according to a press release. The new offerings made a social media splash--which was a heck of a hard thing to do last week with all the other things going on.

Despite the fact that these are fairly simple menu changes (or more to the point, because of that fact) here's why I think this is such an intriguing change for McDonald's.

Largely, it's because this is one of the few big menu changes fast food giants have made recently that doesn't risk cannibalizing other sales.

For example, McDonald's expanded its breakfast hours and offerings in 2018. 

But this is complicated: McDonald's found that some of its regular breakfast customers were simply coming in later, which meant longer lines and a potentially harder time buying more expensive lunch and dinner items.

Or, consider the effort that fast food restaurants have to put into plant-based burgers. Even cooking them on different surfaces than meat, as some vegetarians are likely to demand, creates a capacity problem.

By adding two new sandwiches that are basically the same as the original Big Mac -- only with more and less meat, respectively -- McDonald's doesn't have that kind of logistical problem.

Now, I don't know if they'll be big sellers, of course. I don't know if there's a margin difference that would leave McDonald's preferring to sell more of one than the others. And I don't know what McDonald's internal projections look like for these sandwiches.

But I think the lesson from the outside is that just doesn't seem to be much of a risk here, compared to many other menu changes that McDonald's could make.

Bottom line: Getting a marketing bump for a pair of products that doesn't require much risk of hurting your other products' sales?

I think that's a pretty good bet for McDonald's--and a pretty good experiment to watch.