Let me start on a positive note.

As a paneer-loving vegetarian, I love McDonalds’ new McSpicy paneer. It gives me a decent enough reason to go to McDonalds when my son pesters me for those McDonalds toys – collecting all Rio toys is on his list for this month and he’s already wondering what kind of McDonalds toys will be available when Kung-Fu Panda 2 releases later this year!!

Also, please wipe off that smirk from your face if you are a non-vegetarian who considers a vegetarian ‘burger’ an anomaly! This is Spart…err, India. We have ‘vegetarian’ burgers. Live with it!

Now for the crux of this post – what was so ‘spicy’ about McSpicy anyway?

First, I thought I was the only one. I have seen the billboards with QR code. I have seen the ads. I have seen the ‘viral’ (sic!…and sigh!). I have seen enough of McDonalds’s pre-launch buzz that I tried it only because of that. But, I have to say – there is a serious disconnect between the core message and the product!

See the TVC’s promise, for instance!

The billboards went a step forward, much like the online communication – they both had the multiple-choice type question that offered 3 options – ‘Too hot’, ‘Too cool’ and ‘Just right’. I don’t fully understand the options, however. A ‘spicy’ burger, if advertised using a lot of chillies and fire in the design is naturally expected to be spicy. As in Andhra/Rajasthan spicy. That is what the imagery seems to communicate.

I do understand McDonalds is trying to target the market for KFC Zinger. I also need to concede that being a vegetarian, I have not tasted the McSpicy Chicken and do not intend to, for the sake of this post!

But then, I found out that I’m not the only one.

Almost everybody I spoke to…or met…seemed to like the new McSpicy range but were also mildly baffled by McDonalds’ campaign that focused exclusively on the ‘spice’ quotient. But yes, I need to add that at least one person I spoke to from the McSpicy Chicken perspective agreed that the new burger was ‘spicy’, as in ‘hot’. There are traces of it online too, as far as chicken goes. Like this one, for instance.

So, while the McSpicy paneer was tasty indeed, it was nowhere near any of the spiciness the models faked in the ads! And that is a massive disconnect, in my opinion.

But the most important question – does it impact the long term prospects of the McSpicy range? I’m not so sure and don’t have a perspective on it yet. All I know is that I have had the McSpicy paneer burger twice and could perhaps tolerate it a few more times. And a few more, more times for my son’s sake. But after those 7-10 odd times, it’d be back to square one loathing the trip to McDonalds.

Let’s look at it from another angle. Has the ‘spice’ based communication succeeded in getting people to try the new McSpicy range? I’d say yes, emphatically. It was a well organized and well planned campaign and it was highly visible. It induced curiosity…it had people buzzing about the new range and it has got people into the store.

So, should McDonalds worry about the perception after people try the McSpicy range? There is most definitely a disconnect between what was promised and what actually materialized. And the promise was reasonably straight – expect a spicy burger. This is far more direct than vague promises like ‘Anti-virus air conditioner’ from Samsung.

A ‘spicy’ in my opinion, is a hit or a miss. It is usually ‘spicy’. Or ‘not spicy’. The secondary layer is ‘Woohoo, it is spicy and tasty!’…or ‘Yowzaaa, this is too spicy to be tasty for me!’. When the McSpicy ends up being ‘Not spicy at all, but is tasty’, I’m not sure if that really matches all the hype in the communication.

Does it impact McSpicy’s prospects because they haven’t matched what was promised in the communication even though they have a mighty functional (‘tasty’) product? I can only talk for myself – yes, I am disappointed that it is not as spicy as I had expected it to be…particularly after all those ‘spiced’ up expressions in the TVCs! Does it stop me from going to McDonalds again? I’m perhaps not the right target group to answer that question since I go to McDonalds for a very different reason – my kid.

This is a pertinent issue in public relations too. The kind of communication we (in the PR business, online or offline) create on behalf of clients and target it at appropriate media needs to be as close to the truth as possible. There is a reason why hype does not work in PR since it is largely a direct communication – between PR folks and media folks. It is easy to be skeptical about hype and easier to communicate the skepticism back to be the agency/corporate. As always, any hype has to match the expectations set using hype. If it doesn’t, you get direct feedback in PR and random, assorted feedback like what I have gathered above, in advertising.

If you believe you may be one of the core target groups for this communication from McDonalds, do let me know what you think about the ‘spice’ promise. Is there a mismatch in the promise and the product? If yes, does it impact your perception of the new range? And, does it impact your repeat visits to McDonalds?