Kanye West’s favorite things—ripped sweaters, Leonardo DiCaprio, the music video for Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”—are as well-documented as his personal and professional beefs. Regular people may have regular opinions, but Kanye makes pronouncements. Declarations. After all, he has self-identified as a god.
Apparently, even a god has to eat. On Aug. 31, the rapper pointed his considerable social media spotlight at McDonald’s with a tweet heard, if not ‘round the world, then certainly in the fast food giant’s PR office.
McDonalds is my favorite brand
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) August 31, 2016
And this is not Kanye’s first McDonald’s shoutout. In July, the company sent West’s wife Kim Kardashian a Givenchy wallet full of gift cards after she professed her love for chicken McNuggets (paywall). And earlier this month, buyers of Frank Ocean’s new album were treated to a poem Kanye wrote about Mickey D’s. “The McDonald’s Man” may not be winning a Pulitzer anytime soon, but it does have a certain je ne sais quoi.
I know the french fries have a plan
I know the french fries have a plan
The cheeseburger and the shakes formed a band
To overthrow the french fries’ plan
While Kardashian has been accused of defying US law by not disclosing her paid social media promotions, Kanye and McDonald’s don’t appear to be linked in any official capacity.
But maybe they should be. A match-up between the world’s largest food brand and the world’s largest personal brand could actually be a boon for each. Let us make the case:
McDonald’s needs sales growth. When McDonald’s reported disappointing second-quarter earnings last month—same-store sales rose just 1.8%, well below expectations of 3.4%—it was the latest blow in a steady decline from the restaurant’s heyday as every kid’s special treat. Increased revenue from All-Day Breakfast, introduced in October, is starting to peter out, and McDonald’s is facing broader softness in consumers’ casual-dining expenditures. On Aug. 31, the company announced that US president Mike Andres would be stepping down at the end of the year.
In a food climate that’s brought us everything from vegan ice cream to organic Gatorade, McDonald’s has struggled to keep up. The company’s attempts to capitalize on healthy-eating trends—including salads whose dressing has the caloric content of straight lard—have yielded middling results. Cheeseburgers and fries continue to dominate purchases. Kanye may not be a logical influencer among people looking for kale shakes or fast-casual quinoa, but clearly neither is McDonald’s.
McDonald’s needs millennials. Millennial disinterest is often blamed for McDonald’s stagnant growth, but the problem is a bit more nuanced. According to a Morgan Stanley report, McDonald’s is the most visited restaurant among millennials, but also the restaurant they are least likely to recommend. In other words, the millennial generation still loves Mickey D’s—they’re just ashamed to admit it.
The company knows it has an engagement issue, and just this week named a new advertising agency to handle its US business (ending a 35-year relationship with Publicis’ Leo Burnett Co.) “This agency of the future really has digital and data at the heart,” McDonald’s chief marketing officer told Advertising Age. “[That] allows us to be customer obsessed at a whole new level in everything that we do.”
Digital initiatives cropped up in the company’s 2015 annual report, too: McDonald’s cited its nascent mobile app as a way to “engage with customers in more fun, personal, and relevant ways.”
McDonald’s needs a celebrity spokesperson. The company has flirted with big names in the past—Michael Jordan, Justin Timberlake, and even Prince have hocked burgers and McNuggets—but the model should be revived and retrofitted for the social media age.
And really, who knows audience engagement better than Kanye? Remember, this is a man who got people to line up around the block for a chance to drop $1,000 on a torn sweatshirt. Selling delicious french fries is nothing to him.
Kanye needs a platform. We may not yet know the particulars of Kanye’s plan for world domination—something at the intersection of post-apocalyptic sweaters and life-size wax figures, probably—but it seems fair to say he has grand designs on something. Whatever it is, could there be a better platform for personal brand development than a company with a $1.43 billion advertising budget?
We need McKanye. Independently, McDonald’s and Kanye West have attained levels of ubiquity that are difficult to replicate. The former is a stand-in for the health of both the hospitality industry and the US populace, an index of sorts for average Americans’ willingness to pay for food that’s part sustenance, part pure salt. The latter is a stand-in for the American id, a megalomaniacal mogul whose various skills are routinely upstaged by his talent for self-promotion.
With their powers combined? Even more than his alliance with Kardashian—a marriage with its own nomenclature—McKanye could be an emblem of the strength and reach of American culture, a perfect storm of branding that could change the way we think about an eatery currently associated with road trips and resignation (“Whatever, let’s just get McDonald’s”).
Plus, someone needs to figure out what those fries are up to.