McDonald’s ploy of opening two brand free outlets in Japan might prove a ricochet investment in marketing. Having followed the blogging on the net since the first mention, already first conclusion may be drawn.

McDonald’s started two new shops in Japan with no Mc branding and colouring. Simply called Quarter Pounder, the two restaurants offer a wide choice of menus, quarter pounder with cheese of double quarter pounder with cheese. That’s it. Staff and shops are held in black and red; interior design by nightclub going operating theatre. For a full set of pictures, go here.

The shops are now open a few weeks, and the general consensus seems to be that they’re a flop. This is a bit difficult to say with complete certainty, but going through the comments of people actually based in Japan, it looks to be the case. What was the reasoning behind this marketing stunt? And what are the reasons for its failure?

Primarily, McDonald’s is rather misplaced in Japan with its credo of bigger is better. If you know Japanese Sushi then you know that for them smaller is better. Eating is an art form there and that claim is certainly anybody’s but McDonald’s. As Japanese go rather for first class raw fish than second class overcooked meat, it’s a permanent uphill struggle to get them to accept healthy western culture cheaply packed and containing an indefinable gluey substance called cheese.

Hamburgers and other items sold in Japan are not smaller than in the States as sometimes stated. But taking into account the Japanese preference for Bonsai culture maybe they should. To go against this ingrained reticence in eating by introducing them to the quarter pounder seems like an insurmountable hurdle. Going no brand and playing on natural human curiosity was therefore a major strategic ploy. It definitely spoilt it for anybody else for the future. So it’s certainly not going to set trends.

When playing with human curiosity, there has to be an ahhhh at the end. This ah should have a rising pitch. McDonald’s Japanese adventure has already produced this ah, and the pitch definitely went in the opposite direction. What looks from a marketing point of view like a major coup is turning into a medium disaster. Nobody is more unforgiving than a misled human being, and this could have impact on overall turn-over for McDonalds in Japan, now that the secret is out.

What makes me absolutely sure that it was a major failure is the blogging content on the net. There is still a lot of blogging going on about it, mostly negative. I found one blog plus translations of it where it sounds like the absolute opposite happened and people were queuing for block to get in. These blogs all use the pictures of Neil Duckett, but without acknowledging him or giving reference to his blog. To me this looks like shoring up broken dams.

What it winds down to: A major flop produced by one of those over clever marketing gurus was backed by a marketing executive with a bloated ego has cost millions and will cost millions more in lost turn-over. If the executive doesn’t get a bonus, he at least will get the golden handshake when he leaves. All paid gracefully by the costumers of McDonalds, who pay first class prices for second class food.