Fast Food MacGuffin
Fanboys of the grounded pork patty slathered in tangy barbeque sauce are having their dreams fulfilled at McDonald’s locations across America — for a limited time only, of course.
First making its lukewarm debut in the early 1980s, the McRib gained an inexplicable cult following after McDonald’s pulled it from its menus after deciding Americans just don’t eat pork often enough in their diets. Perhaps they never considered the prospects of delivering pork to hungry Americans via bacon form.
Since then, McDonald’s has set a marketing precedent that other global fast food chains have come to adhere to. The McRib makes even more infrequent appearances than a blue moon and is always accompanied with appropriate advertising hoopla and marketing tie-ins.
Texas-based chain Whataburger has a very similar approach to its specialty sandwiches and burgers, such as the A1 Thick & Hearty Burger or the Honey BBQ Chicken Strip Sandwich. Available periodically throughout the year, each sandwich gains a following, and when they are taken off the menu their respective fans clamor endlessly for their return. It has now led to Whataburger creating the All-Time Favorites menu, which features four of the seasonal sandwiches together for, once again, a limited time.
Just what is the appeal of all specialty foods like the McRib? Why did entire communities of McRib aficionados spring up to keep track of when and where this sandwich made out of ground pork stamped to look like a small rack of ribs would be available?
Honestly, it’s hard to answer those questions. There’s nothing inherently good about the McRib. It’s difficult to taste anything other than what appears to be a gallon of cheap barbeque sauce that covers the patty. The texture of the patty itself is pretty similar to that of tofu, leading to the conclusion that there is most likely some actual pork meat in it, but there is certainly some other “filler” in the patty.
But no matter how unappealing it may be to many people, the McRib commands legions of fans and McDonald’s knows how to get the most profit out of them through simple control of the supply. It’s eerily similar to how De Beers has controlled the worldwide supply of diamonds for decades to make carbon crystals appear to be scarce in the world and convince the world that they need diamonds. McDonald’s not only has complete control over the world’s supply of McRibs, through various ad campaigns it convinces people that this indeed something rare and special that needs to be bought when available.
Perhaps that’s just reading too much into the mystique of a 500-calorie sandwich. From today until November 14th, McRib fans will be in paradise as they play the exclusive Facebook game Quest for the Golden McRib while chowing down on their favorite sandwich. Once that day in November passes, they will go back to lamenting the loss of their special treat and wait for the next day of return.
Or they could just move to Germany.
Editor's note: Time just released a report noting "The McRib contains a flour-bleaching agent found in gym mats & shoes that's banned in Europe & Australia." I'm lovin' it!