For the first two weeks of February (until Valentine's Day), McDonald's has been accepting non-cash payments (for selected customers) in the form of selfies, hugs or high-fives that the chain called "Pay with Lovin." It is an attempt to use viral marketing to create a "feel good" vibe about the fast-food chain, its products, employees and customers that build on the brand's "Lovin It" tagline.
At first glance, it would seem McDonald's, which of late has steadily suffered loss in market share and general sales, is willing to sacrifice potentially considerable short-term revenues to burnish its brand image. And give customers some well-deserved love for sticking with McDonalds over all the other fast-food alternatives.
As with most things involving love, it's a little more complicated than that.
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They Only Love the Ones They Want
AV Club Newswire reports the campaign comes with a number of strings attached. Not everyone is eligible, and determination of eligibility seems, at best, arbitrary. Acts of "Lovin' it" can only occur at certain times that are randomly determined. If you are chosen to show your lovin', you are told what act to perform, and you must provide a satisfactory performance to get your free food.
In other words, getting the love might be more work than it's worth. That was Kate Bachelder's response when she was selected to be "publicly embarrassed" when a cashier selected her to pay with love. She reports that what looks like a touching experiencing on a television ad is less so in real life, and that maybe the company should put less effort into looking trendy and more into producing a quality product.
Lovin' It or Usin' You?
The problem here is you can't make people love your product just by giving it away. Or worse, only giving it away only to certain people (implying that you love some more than others).
What you can do is provide a product people want.
Here's some tough love advice: the problem McDonald's has is that there are not only plenty of places to get a fast meal, but there are also plenty of places that are giving people the fast meal they want. McDonald's is putting a lot of energy into updating its décor, employee uniforms and advertising slogans.
As someone used to sing, "You can't buy me love. No, no, no."