After Record Losses, McDonald’s Is Giving Away Burgers for Some Much Needed Lovin’

The fast-food giant’s newest marketing ploy will ask random diners to keep their cash and buy Big Macs with a hug.
Feb 2, 2015·
Josh Scherer has written for Epicurious, Thrillist, and Los Angeles magazine. He is constantly covered in corn chip crumbs.

McDonald’s and the rest of the world can probably agree on one thing: Everyone could use a little more lovin’.

During the Super Bowl, McD’s unveiled the latest commercial in its new “Choose Lovin’ ” marketing campaign. The 30-second spot—which set the company back $8 million—shows customers paying for their meals in group hugs, fist bumps, and calls to loved ones. That’s where some might disagree: Can a global trend of compassion and empathy be sparked by a corporation that's being sued for civil rights violations and would rather steer full-time employees toward government assistance programs than pay them a living wage? But, hey, you know, different strokes.

Between Feb. 2 and Feb. 14, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., selected McDonald’s customers from across the nation will be chosen at random and invited to participate in the promotion. “Once a selected customer has completed his or her order and presented a method of payment, the restaurant Guest Service Manager or Lovin’ Lead will explain that McDonald’s is doing something special," a Tuesday press release from McD’s explained, "and the customer will be given the option to pay for his or her order with an act of lovin’ instead.”

But while customers are taking selfies and high-fiving cashiers for free Big Macs, many of the franchise owners—who run the majority of McDonald’s locations across the country—won’t be sharing in the McRevelry. As reported by Reuters, “Morale among U.S. franchisees is at the lowest point since the late 1990s.”

It’s a promotional moment that highlights the complete disconnect between McDonald’s senior executives and, well, just about everybody.

The company is hemorrhaging cash faster than at any other time in its history, and rather than work to simplify the menu and remove preservatives—as newly resigned CEO Don Thompson said he would back in December—it is throwing overly sentimental marketing campaigns at the wall and hoping something sticks enough to stop the bleeding.

Franchisees who spoke with Reuters pointed out several flaws in the parent company’s policies. Often, McDonald’s will force owners to remodel restaurants, which puts them in debt without any guarantee that the money spent will be recouped. One owner said that the cost of the electricity to run the McCafé espresso machines outweighs the profits made from the drinks.

"We just have no momentum anymore," one franchisee said. Somehow, asking franchise owners to give away free food while touching strangers doesn’t seem like the best way to improve morale.