The McEmpire is in turmoil.

Like the ancient Roman emperor Honorius as he watched the Visigoths pouring over the seven hills of Rome, McDonald's management may now be witnessing the decline of its own empire.

In December, McDonald's announced an anticipated quarterly loss for the first time in its 47-year history. Regrettably, the company's direction and focus over the past decade has as much to do with the decline as does the pressure from competitors.

A few years ago, my sister felt a tap on her shoulder as she stood in line at McDonald's.

“What are you ordering?” came the question from the woman in line behind her. “I will buy your lunch if you will order 10 Happy Meals for me.”

It was the height of the Beanie Baby craze and McDonald's had timed the trend just right with its Mini-Beanie Baby Happy Meal promotion. As gaggles of Beanie mavens formed lines that wrapped around its stores, McDonald's management exercised its right to limit quantities on the purchase of the highly desired Happy Meals.

My sister ordered 10 Happy Meals and got her lunch for free. What was not foreseen were the thousands of meals that were not eaten, but simply thrown away after collectors had removed the prized Beanies.

I was dismayed at human nature that day. But, I was also reminded that McDonald's is not really about food.

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Mitch McCasland ( is director of insight and brand strategy at Moroch Partners ( and a leading advocate of using customer insights and competitive intelligence as a basis for brand strategy, advertising, and new product design.