The fast-food giant is using a tactic that traces back to rock royalty.
Very few fast-food items achieve iconic status. Aside from McDonald’s (MCD) – Get McDonald’s Corporation Report Big Mac and Restaurant Brands International’s (QSR) – Get Restaurant Brands International Inc. Report Burger King’s Whopper, it’s hard to argue that any sandwich has reached that level.
Sure, the Wendy’s (WEN) – Get Wendy’s Company (The) Report Baconator comes close, but when you think of the true fast-food elite menu items, the list might end at the Whopper and the Big Mac.
After those two, however, fans have not elevated any other fast-food menu items items to that level (sorry Filet O’ Fish) but there are a few limited-time-offers that have become legendary. The McRib leads that list as McDonald’s has built its pork sandwich into a huge hit by not bringing it back on any set schedule,
And, while the chain does release it nationally from time to time it also has released it in select markets on an entirely random schedule. This has led to a privately-created McRib locator website which diehards use to track the sandwich’s availability.
The McRib’s unique popularity even led to a “The Simpsons” episode where Homer began following the Krusty Burger Ribwich around the country. That’s basically anointing the Ribwich as pop culture royalty and McDonald’s has done an excellent job of keeping people interested in a menu item it rarely offers.
Now, the fast-food chain has brought the McRib back nationally for what it’s calling a “Farewell Tour.” That might get the return a lot of hype but this is a farewell that’s closer to the endless farewell tours The Eagles, Motley Crue, Cher, and Elton John have embarked on over the years.
Or, to be blunt, this isn’t so much “farewell,” as it is in “Simpsons” terms, “smell you later.”
McDonald’s Hedges its McRib Bet
While nobody actually expected Motley Crue to stop touring, the band played into the idea by signing a “cessation of touring” agreement in 2019. That’s committing to the bit even if fans buying tickets to see the band for the “last time,” know that’s not actually what’s happening.
The Rolling Stones and Elton John have been having their final tours since the 1980s, but like McDonald’s they’ve sort of hedged their bets with fans. Here’s how the fast-food giant has framed the McRib “farewell” tour.
“We have good news, and we have bad news. The elusive McRib® is finally back…BUT this could be your last chance to get it. After three straight years headlining McDonald’s nationwide menu each fall, the iconic sandwich is embarking on a ‘Farewell Tour’ — giving fans across the country one more chance to experience a taste of the McRib at participating McDonald’s restaurants starting Oct. 31,” the company shared in a press release.
The chain, however, admits that this isn’t really the end of the McRib. Instead, it’s the fast-food chain doing exactly what it has done with the sandwich since it was first launched in 1981.
“Like any true farewell tour, we’re hoping this isn’t a ‘goodbye’ but a ‘see you later.’ Because as our McRib fans have experienced time and time again: you never know when – or if – the McRib is coming back,” the chain added.
Spoiler alert, it’s coming back, because while someday there won’t be anything even the most advanced doctors can do to keep Elton John or Keith Richards going, McDonald’s faces no such limitations.
McDonald’s Wants Your Attention
Traditionally, McDonald’s has offered the McRib when the pork it uses to make the sandwich makes sense price-wise relative to chicken and beef. The sandwich only makes economic sense for the same chain at certain times and often in limited volumes — that’s why it has been a random limited-time-offer that has often been limited to a narrow geographic area.
Basically, McDonald’s took a supply chain issue and made it a positive by creating an event around the return of McRib. In this case, the chain has decided to troll its fans with the fake farewell tour, but it’s not willing to commit to the bit the way so many musicians have.
So, while you don’t (and won’t) know when the McRib will return, you can be confident that it will be coming back.