He's Lovin' It: What Kanye West’s Poem to McDonald’s Means for Restaurant Brands

Producer and song artist Kanye West is proving once again that he is no small fry and that even multi-millionaires order off the Dollar Menu. In late August, a poem written by West, called “The McDonald’s Man,” was published in a limited magazine titled “Boys Don’t Cry,” which accompanied the release of songwriter Frank Ocean’s latest album, "Blonde."

His poem features piquant verses such as: “McDonalds man...I know the french fries have a plan...I don’t trust no food that smells that good man...I don’t trust it...I just can’t [sic].”

And of course, because Kanye West is also the King of Controversial — whether it was sparking the much-circulated Taylor Swift VMAs debate in 2009 or asking Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg earlier in February to invest $1 billion into his ideas as the “greatest artist of all time” — this music industry icon already had a brewing storm of social media momentum. It’s no shock that his poem set off a flurry of tweets, posts, and other consumer reactions, and that “The McDonald’s Man” went viral.

The result? Foodable Labs saw McDonald’s sentiment score spike from 73.67 to 83.71, starting from the magazine’s release on Aug. 20 to Sept. 1 — that’s a 10-point jump in less than two weeks.

Is Kanye West the McDonald’s Man?

This sudden upturn was a surprise, considering that much like West’s hit-or-miss crowd reception, McDonald’s, the former kingpin of the fast food industry, is either loved or hated by consumers, especially as the rise of fast casual’s healthier and customized alternatives also seemed to bring along the crusade against quick-service restaurants with it.

Sales have slowed down for this burger giant, and in 2014, this once-dominating brand fell from the Top 10 in Foodable’s Most Loved Restaurant Brands ranking. Struggling with sales growth and keeping up with shifting consumer trends have been a mountain that the brand is still climbing.

McDonald's – Consumer Sentiment Score

Sentiment scores, measured by positive-neutral-negative analysis using a curated database of food, service, and brand terms, are determined by Foodable Labs. Foodable Labs, through the Restaurant Social Media Index (RSMI), analyzes more than 167K restaurant and hospitality brands and over 220MM global restaurant consumers across 500K foodservice locations.

What does this mean for McDonald’s? After all, it was a challenge enough for the brand to move even five points in a year, much less the 10 points it did in the latter half of 2016’s third quarter alone. What was the force behind this unexpected sentiment score? It was something all brands should pay attention to in the ascent of the digital age: the power of social media influencers.

Kanye West is an entity, on a brand-like level, of his own. While this wasn’t the first time he has revealed his Mickey D’s craving, his poem single-handedly sparked 1.7 direct social media interactions and 12.3 million more through second- and third-level social conversations and memes. When Foodable Labs analyzed Kanye West’s direct influence on McDonald’s social score, it revealed that of McDonald’s 10-point increase in positive sentiment, Kanye West’s callout had an 8-point influence. Talk about a game-changer! (Maybe this is what West meant in one of his 2010 lyrics when he said “No one man should have all that power”?)   

Do Super Celebrities Have Sustainable Influence? 

Brands and celebrities have been tied together in advertising and marketing matrimony for years, but what are differences when celebrity representation is solicited versus unsolicited? While more and more consumers question the brand authenticity of celebrity endorsement, the seemingly unplanned, unscripted, human nature of celebrities taking to social media to express their views — and the belief that, more often than not, these messages are personal, not paid — have resulted in consumers gravitating toward and engaging with that brand messaging.

Which brands have been gifted with unexpected celeb compliments?

From songwriter Ellie Goulding singing praises about fast casual Veggie Grill, to model Chrissy Teigen announcing her loud-and-proud appreciation for Kentucky Fried Chicken, to Justin Timberlake saying yo quiero Taco Bell, it’s easy to see that celebrities are still people who need to eat and are still consumers with favorite hotspots within our foodservice industry. But does their major status play a role in the digital and in-store reputations of these various restaurant brands? And does their influence possess longevity?

“The real question here is: Are super celebs really the only celebs that have a direct impact on moving brand perception based on their social audience impact? As we analyzed 329 social posts from top celebrities, there were only a handful of celebs who actually moved the needle for brands,” Paul Barron, CEO and founder of Foodable, said.

This difficulty to move the needle in brand perception can be seen in Ellie Goulding’s and Chrissy Teigen’s Twitter streams. According to Foodable Labs, Goulding and Teigen only had a direct impact of .0028 sentiment points for Veggie Grill and Kentucky Fried Chicken respectively. A meager number compared to West’s 8-point impact, granted, Goulding and Teigen only tweeted quick thoughts, as opposed to Kanye’s artistically crafted ode to french fries. (And we're sure McDonald’s loves to see him smile for it.)

Do Social Media Influencers Impact Actual In-Store Visits?

Solicited or not, in the end of the day, celebrity endorsement plays its part. As Forbes put it, consumers look up to celebrities and celebrities inspire consumer confidence. Will this unsolicited success of Kanye’s poem lead to other celebrities purposefully attempting to use their stardom to sway potential business deals in the restaurant space? Will the golden rays of the sun rise in the East and will the McDonald's Golden Arches of french fries set in the (Kanye) West?

“As we see more and more focus of influence marketing attempted by brands, the results may not be as powerful as brands wish they were, except apparently for Kanye West. This continues to create push back from brands and content marketing in the industry, and cause the question: Do power celebs control brand perceptions enough that they could cause a blip or hit on revenue for brands?” Barron said.

And from consumer engagement online, regardless of whether it was a check-in, mention, geotag, post, or photo share, how much of that influences socially-motivated in-store visits, or social restaurant visits (SRV)?  

“As we explore the impact of SRVs, we could see if the sentiment bump for the ‘Kanye Effect’ on Mcdonald’s actually caused an increase in visits. This would be the telling data that would enable brands to develop somewhat of a celebrity power ranking,” Barron said. “This also begs the question that if brand are armed with this data, will we be seeing less celebrity sponsorships and deals that incorporate normal celebrities into promotion deals? This coupled with the recent hit from the FCC...provides an interesting content marketing landscape in the future.”