For McDonald’s McRib, mystery is part of the marketing equation

Marketing Bites: Uncertainty about whether the company will bring back “the GOAT of sandwiches” makes it more alluring; Outback uses college athletes to hock catering.
McDonald's marketing McRib
The latest McRib "Farewell Tour" is the latest evidence of marketing based on the scarcity principle. / Image courtesy of McDonald's.

Marketing BitesMcDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski gave an, uh, interesting response on Thursday when asked whether this truly would be the McRib’s “farewell tour.”

“The McRib is the GOAT of sandwiches on our menu,” he said. “And so like the GOATs Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, and others, you’re never sure if they’re fully retired or not.”

For the uninitiated, GOAT stands for “greatest of all time,” and it is often used to describe Jordan, the hall-of-fame basketball player, and Brady, the seven-time Super Bowl winning quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both of them retired and then unretired.

Leaving aside the comparison, Kempczinski’s comment is deliberately vague, and very much on purpose.

Mystery has always been part of the equation for the McRib, which was first added to the menu in 1981 and has had more retirements and comebacks than both Jordan and Brady combined. (A lot more, in fact.)

Yet in this case, we think, it’s not a case of if the McRib will come back (it will) but when (who knows).

The scarcity principle works remarkably well. If consumers think there is a shortage of a product, or that it won’t be around for long, they will rush out to get it. Think of the Great Toilet Paper Shortage in 2020 and how many people rushed out to get some the moment they thought they might run out.

Marketers use this principle quite well, which is why we’re seeing extremely limited-time offers such as the one-day, one-restaurant test of plant-based fried chicken at KFC in 2019.

It has worked to McDonald’s advantage with the McRib, which generated strong sales after it was brought back as a limited-time offer starting in 2005 with the company’s first “farewell tour.”

At the same time, if the company brings the product back at the same time every year, then customers will come to expect it and the mystery disappears. McDonald’s in this case has brought the McRib back at this time of year for three straight years starting in 2020. A “farewell tour” brings the mystery back.

By hinting that it may disappear, McDonald’s could tap into the scarcity principle. And the company could further tap into it by waiting longer to bring it back again, thus keeping the McRib’s apparent legion of devoted loyalists guessing.

NIL, NFTs, catering and dad jokes: Few companies have used NIL deals with college athletes—or “name, image and likeness” deals—with quite as much gusto as Outback Steakhouse, which now has more than 80 such deals with college athletes.

The steakhouse chain owned by Bloomin’ Brands is using some of those athletes, those of the football playing variety, to market its new catering program. The campaign is called a very dad-joke-like “Steak it to the House,” a play on the term “take it to the house,” which means a player is scoring a touchdown.

The campaign involves NFTs of University of Wisconsin Running Back Braelon Allen and University of Georgia Running Back Kendall Milton. It also features partnerships with Elon Defensive Lineman Jon Seaton and University of Michigan Wide Receiver A.J. Henning, both of whom apparently have strong presences on TikTok.

The idea is to convince customers to have Outback cater their football parties. Outback began offering catering for the first time in April.

Another sandwich chain sells passes: Cheap food passes are in vogue these days. The latest comes from Quiznos, which is selling a Q Pass providing customers $3 off any 12-inch sub for a full month. The passes will be available for purchase between Nov. 3 and Nov. 17.

The pass costs $12 in the U.S. and $15 in Canada.

The Q Pass follows Subway’s successful Footlong Pass, which cost $15 and gave customers half off their Footlong subs for a month. The company sold 10,000 of the passes within 15 minutes.

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