In the last few weeks I have seen the advertising poster above around different cities. The poster sees McDonald’s proudly proclaiming that “Every McMuffin is made with a freshly cracked egg – we make breakfast”. Why have they placed such emphasis on this particular aspect of their cooking process? I think they are trying to project two ideas to us; that the McMuffin has a certain level of “authenticity” and that they “care”.
This poster reminded me in particular of an insight from Adam Curtis’ classic documentary series The Century of the Self. In the second episode he discussed how early market researchers working for the American food manufacturer Betty Crocker found that consumers wanted easier more convenient products but were not buying them in significant numbers. One particular researcher, Ernest Dichter through applying the techniques of psychoanalysis, in particular group free association, found that housewives felt unconscious guilt for using packet cake mixes. The use of such mixes took away the symbolic value attached to the baking of a cake for their family because it was too easy (see video below, particularly from 22:00).
Dichter suggested that the consumers needed to be given a greater sense of participation in the baking process. He proposed that the recipe for the cake mix should be changed very slightly, rather than merely adding water or milk and mixing, the consumer should also be required to crack an egg into the mixture. Betty Crocker followed Dichter’s advice and their sales soared. The addition of the egg was an unconscious symbol of the women giving a gift to their family and alleviated their guilt at using a quick and easy fix.
It seems to me that McDonald’s are doing something similar here. Their food is processed and produced in a highly rationalized manner this is a potential problem for them in a context in which such food is becoming devalued with authenticity as the new watchword. Given their organizational structures it is not possible for McDonald’s to offer the kind of personalization and “authenticity” of small independent outlets. The freshly cracked egg, however, allows them to inject a small degree of a personalisation and authenticity into the process without upsetting their efficient, rationalized and highly profitable production process.