Secret stuff


It's what's for dinner
It’s what’s for dinner

We’re lovin’ it.  McDonald’s secret menu, that is.

This week, the business media was buzzing about two major restaurant chains that have these.  Starbucks is the other.  Maybe there’s more of them we don’t know about, but surely there are more to come.

What it involves is what some of our foodie friends do at five-star establishments:  ordering off the menu.  But we’re talking  QSRs here,  and the “secret” menu is actually on the menu, it’s just that you can’t see it.  And this is where it captures the imagination.

This menu strategy involves serving items that are not printed or promoted anywhere, but apparently customers know are there.   The tactic involves using word of mouth to promote.  One satisfied diner and a text later,  the viral effect kicks in.

Let’s face it, who doesn’t want to try something “secret”?  Starbucks apparently launched  this new strategy with their Cotton Candy Frappuccino (photo above).  Yuck…for us adults, but we’re not the target market.

In fact, only kids seem to know much about this drink, and whether it even tastes good seems beside the point.  It’s all about the experience.  Junior can now share in your daily adult coffee fix, and Starbucks can count on it being Facebooked or Twittered before you can say “Machiatto”.

McDonald’s has sprung this secret menu strategy with success in key foreign markets.  In Brazil, just in time for the World’s Cup next month, you’ll be able to order a side of traditional rice and black beans with your Big Mac.  (That might be the only thing that will actually be ready in Rio in time for the Cup…but that’s a whole other story.)

Or, if your tastes are more refined or restricted, you might prefer a sautéed chicken breast with small boiled potatoes for a few cents more.  But you have to know the code to order it.  (Shhs…it’s the “prato executivo”, or executive plate.)

Lest we think this is all about expanding assortment, let’s think again.  It’s about delighting — and retaining — the customer.  It’s savvy customer segmentation, allowing the chain to be all things to all people, while making you feel like a member of a special club.

You’re probably not going to see these chains openly promote this practice, at least not in their advertising.  It goes against their core competencies and the brands they have so carefully cultivated.

This is where the marketing lesson lies:  there’s a time for transparency…and then there’s not.  When that time comes,  stealthy is the way to serve it.

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