BJC’s Senior Editor Tells McDonald’s: More Big n Beefy, Less Mash, You Tits

By RFH

Trying to figure out what McDonald’s is up to in China is like trying to analyze a People’s Daily editorial. They’re both selling the same tired junk but it’s hard to figure out why, after all this time, they can’t do it better.

Young expats who visit China undergo the same jolt of incredulity — they deliver? Twenty-four hours, you say? — and for a while, I, too, knew their number even when I didn’t know my own. They did a sweet ice coffee (a big dollop of ice cream in a regular cup of hot; it worked), plus there was an item called the Big n Beefy that I quickly fell in love with.

What can I tell you about Beefy? I thought it was some Chinese edition of the quarter-pounder and therefore here to stay; a decent-sized patty, tart spicy sauce that immediately brought a tear to the eye, and cucumber for balance. It was my north, my south, my east, my west. There was no question of ordering anything else. Alas, Beefy was as impermanent as any foreigner in China, with no long-term plan. One day Beefy was there; the next he was gone. Then my requests for iced coffee began getting the “mei you” (don’t have) treatment; it made no sense. They had the ice cream; they had the coffee…

Clearly, the staff simply didn’t care enough – and I would not be treated like that. I stopped calling — though I still kept a casual eye on Mickey D’s progress in China. I didn’t follow them on Twitter or anything weird, just kept my eyes and ears open, so occasional titbits would come my way, confirming my suspicion that whoever was running McDonald’s China menu was even more risk-averse than the Politburo.

McD’s today remains resolutely unchanged. I guess some people like that rock-of-ages reliability but for years now, asking to actually look at their menu has been sort of a joke. There’s never a Thor burger, some ludicrous movie tie-in concoction of onion rings and barbecue sauce that one can try a couple of times just to shake things up. Never. Just the same unfailingly bland array of KFC-chasing chicken sandwiches. And they don’t favour breast meat here; it’s all that brown gloop. I wished they’d innovate – but they won’t.

As a 24-hour delivery establishment, McD’s has the market – not to mention the civic responsibility – to innovate and provide new, fresh items to its menu. But they can’t even be bothered to bung on some sour cream-and-chive sauce with onions and a slice of bacon and call it the Rodeo. And where the hell is my McRib, McDonalds China? This is a country that has strategic pork reserves, for God’s sake. Of course, they don’t really care what I think; these days, they’re chasing Starbucks customers, trying to appeal to the white-collar middle classes. Little brown café concessions are opening everywhere. They’re surely doomed: “Let’s meet for coffee — at McDonald’s!” has the same chance of entering the parlance as “Why don’t I just Bing that?”

But when I heard from a fellow gourmand that McD’s had a new burger (and it was “weird”), I didn’t hesitate. Not for one second. And indeed, it was every bit as baffling (and brief, in all likelihood) as their “offer” of half-off the second burger on Wednesdays from 5 pm to 8 pm, for men only. I’m not talking about the New Year price surge, but the return of last year’s ill-fated “mashed-potato burger,” a nose-crinkling oddity which is, I keep reassuring people, better than it sounds.

Apparently, it’s all part of a marketing campaign I didn’t know about because I don’t watch TV here and find all advertising generally offensive. The campaign, by the jokers at TBWA Shanghai, is a response to the whole pink-slime, ammonia beef controversy; well, I did know about that, because I read the newspapers. Overall, I think I’ve got the balance right.

It’s hard to get your mind off the pink slime thing, and McDonald’s is frankly on a hiding to nothing with their latest diversion tactic: masculinity.

“Manly Man Beef” is a five-ad campaign chasing more middle-class urbanites and based on male characteristics in China, such as “calm,” “focus” and “strong.” Not “geeky,” “awkward,” “hot-tempered” or “materialistic.” In Shanghai, allegedly home to some of the runtiest-sounding drips imaginable, the tailored “100% Manly Man, 100% Real Beef” campaign features a man cooking to show Shanghai men know how to take care of their families. By not taking their children to McDonalds’s and cooking for them at home instead.

One has to wonder — but no more than that, because the Manly Man campaign features depressingly little Top Gun-style homoeroticism to ponder over your burger. They totally missed that trick and this is McD’s we’re talking about: when it comes to misfiring campaigns, they’re reigning champs.

And walking beneath the Golden Arches is to enter a world of enforced make-believe: where burgers are “100% pure ground beef,” where clowns are not creepy and where men long past retirement age sweep floors, in shirts loudly – proudly, even – proclaiming “I’m Lovin’ It.”

Like a Statue of Liberty, the chain attracts the disenfranchised, the tired, the weird. The other week, I caught the eye of a twitchy young girl, maybe 15, laughing erratically, loudly and downright oddly over a book. When I saw the tome in question was the Bible, I knew something was sadly wrong with her – but the fact that all this was happening in McDonald’s China felt entirely right.

The mash burger (it’s that nameless, with only the clumsy description “bacon mashed potato double beef burger” to suggest it won’t be sticking around long, even if we do show it all manner of affection) works quite well, even if it sounds quite wrong.

What we have on close inspection, here, is a couple of patties, a slice of undercooked bacon, with salad, a new sauce and – here’s where things go a little off-piste – mashed potato with bacon bits (?). Truly a leftfield move – it’s probably the last thing you’d think to add. An egg? Why not. Caviar? It’s been done. Hash browns – let’s give it a shot. But mash?

Anyway, I haven’t made up my mind about this one yet. It’s certainly not vile. The sauce is tangy, veering on tart even (I think it’s a pepper sauce, by which I mean they’ve taken the usual “special, secret sauce,” dumped a ton of ground pepper on it and dialed the tang factor up to 11). And the mash… well, the mash is just there, being mash (this will certainly be a sodden, soggy disaster if allowed to cool and then re-microwaved). I’d call it a curio – and frankly, I don’t want to scare the monkeys by killing this particular chicken. But look, McDonald’s, when I say innovate, what I really mean is – just copy a new burger already.

Editor’s note: We actually like mashed potato and bacon in our burger… must be an American thing. RFH is Beijing Cream’s resident Brit. He can be reached at rfh@beijingcream.com.

13 Responses to “BJC’s Senior Editor Tells McDonald’s: More Big n Beefy, Less Mash, You Tits”

  1. Smash

    A visiting Brit who stayed with me last week loved the thing. He called the tangy mayo sauce “magic sauce.” However he also noted that the thing tasted like he just dug his teeth into a salt mine.

    Reply
    • Sharp

      So you’re proud to be an American. The US is ranked: 48th innaft mortality, 72nd overall health, 44th freedom of the press, 55th literacy, 35th voter turn-out. Babies born to unwed mothers: Blacks 72%, Latinos 66%, Native Americans 53%, Whites 29%, Asians 17%. We’re fascists with troops in 155 of the 195 countries. We preach pro-life while murdering women and children with drones. We have CIA torture camps like Abu Ghraib in four other countries.

      Reply
  2. Jonathan Lethem

    Enjoyed this. Though personally, i’m firmly in the kfc china camp, great admirer of the colonel’s unwavering pan-Asian hegemony: a chicken zinger at 4am in the backwaters of guangdong? Inspired. Up-water on the Mekong, with a craving for a family bucket? Yessiree. Popcorn chicken in the suburbs of Seoul? Okay Bubba. Still, partisan preferences tend to be installed at a young age, and this one just happens to chime with own my longstanding fondness for the South.

    Reply
  3. Scott

    I personally don’t take sides on bipartisan struggles such as this. Take for example the one we all hold near and dear to our hearts back in the home land. Both sides make valid points but in the end, they’re all a bunch of insufferable pricks, as are the majority of their followers. Now McD and KFC aren’t nearly on that scale, but likewise, while they do have some tastey food at each establishment, I inevitably end up with either the shits or a just an upset stomach for at least a little while.

    Reply
  4. Scott

    By the way, this was fucking hilarious. These guys truly do set an unacheivable standard for ridiculousness and stupidity.

    Reply
  5. Jonny S

    Truly funny and inspiring, not to mention absolutely relevant. And I’d say McDs were Republicans and BK (unmentioned here, sadly) were Dems — they’re much better but get less press. Whereas the fucktards at Mickey D’s suck up all the oxygen in the room so the ones left with brains can’t survive. Bravo, sirs! Oh, and more please…

    Reply
  6. Johnson

    KFC China menu grows more Chinese by the week/month. In there recently, they seem to be promoting a series of ‘gaifan’ type meals, all around 30 yuan, for the likes of breaded chicken cutlet with curry rice etc The classic fried chicken/hot wings stuff is still there in its usual location but has zero pride of place on the menu. I wonder if its a condition of the franchise that they have to keep it, coz they don’t seem to be marketing any of the stuff you actually associate with KFC: namely, kentucky fried chicken. I just ordered my original recipes chicken and wings and enjoyed that on my own. Those people don’t know what they’re missing!

    Reply
  7. James

    Earlier today, I read China ex-pat lit that was about the author’s obsessive former Chinese mistresses and found it stereotypical, played out, and boring for being written by someone who considers themselves a real writer. This evening I find this and L’dMAO and read excerpts to my wife. I like this blog.

    Reply

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