Fast Food MacGuffin
Behind the crazy cult of the McRib: How McDonald's manipulates it like aruthless diamond supplier
Fanboys of ground pork patty slathered in tangy barbeque sauce are having their dreams fulfilled at McDonald’s locations across America — for a limited time only, of course.
After first making its lukewarm debut in the early 1980s, the McRib gained an inexplicable cult following when McDonald’s pulled it from its menus after deciding Americans just don’t eat enough pork. Perhaps they never considered the prospect of delivering pork to hungry Americans via bacon form?
There’s nothing inherently good about the McRib. It’s difficult to taste anything other than what appears to be a gallon of cheap barbeque sauce that covers the patty.
Since then, McDonald’s has set a marketing precedent that other global fast food chains have come to embrace. The McRib makes even more infrequent appearances than a blue moon and is always accompanied with appropriate advertising hoopla and marketing tie-ins.
Texas-based chain Whataburger has taken a similar approach with its specialty sandwiches and burgers, such as the A1 Thick & Hearty Burger or the Honey BBQ Chicken Strip Sandwich. Available periodically throughout the year, each sandwich gains a following, and when they are taken off the menu their respective fans clamor endlessly for their return. The phenomena has now led to Whataburger to create the All-Time Favorites menu, which features four of the seasonal sandwiches together for, once again, a limited time.
So just what is the appeal of all these specialty foods? Why did entire communities of McRib aficionados spring up to keep track of when and where this sandwich — made out of ground pork stamped to look like a small rack of ribs — would be available?
It’s eerily similar to how De Beers has controlled the worldwide supply of diamonds for decades.
Honestly, it’s hard to answer those questions. There’s nothing inherently good about the McRib. It’s difficult to taste anything other than what appears to be a gallon of cheap barbeque sauce that covers the patty. The texture of the patty itself is pretty similar to that of tofu, leading to the conclusion that there is most likely some actual pork meat in it, but there is certainly some other “filler” in the patty.
But no matter how unappealing it may be, the McRib commands legions of fans, and McDonald’s knows how to get the most profit out of them through simple control of the supply. It’s eerily similar to how De Beers has controlled the worldwide supply of diamonds for decades to make carbon crystals appear scarce and convince people that they need diamonds. McDonald’s not only has complete control over the world’s supply of McRibs, through various ad campaigns it convinces people that this indeed something rare and special that needs to be bought when available, perhaps even to signify an engagement.
Perhaps that’s just reading too much into the mystique of a 500-calorie sandwich. But from today until Nov. 14, McRib fans will be in paradise as they play the exclusive Facebook game Quest for the Golden McRib while chowing down on their favorite sandwich. Once that day in November passes, they will go back to lamenting the loss of their special treat and waiting for the next day of return.
Or, they could just move to Germany.