Authentic American food giant takes social media slamming, or did they?

Did Ronald really make a bigger clown of himself? Or was the social media explosion this week just another way to get people craving a soggy Big Mac and cold fries?
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The Chinese wing of McDonald's changed their name from Mai Dang Lao to Jin Gong Men (Golden Arches).

Did Ronald really make a bigger clown of himself? Or was the social media explosion this week just another way to get people craving a soggy Big Mac and cold fries?

If you were online at any time this Thursday or Friday, you will have seen McDonald’s memes spreading like a chip pan fire. 

The China wing of the restaurant, you see, changed their name from the loosely transliterated Mai Dang Lao — a name ubiquitous in the country’s traditional American cuisine scene since that creepy clown first entered the Chinese mainland in 1990 — to Jin Gong Men (Golden Arches), a name which, in Chinese, sounds more like a tacky, smoke-filled casino on the island of Macau.

Then it turned out that the restaurants wouldn’t change from Mai Dang Lao at all, and that it was just the registered company name that was switching to a name which McDonald’s has already been affectionately called in the West for a wee while.

The topic trended on social media in China, with Weibo going into the kind of meltdown not seen since Lu Han announced his latest conquest. Fox News, CNN, the New York Times and countless other international media outlets covered the fallout as the Golden Arches tried to appease their loyal followers on Weibo, with limited effect.

Netizens were quick to slam the company’s management for considering such a “low-brow” name, with one asking if upper-management was perhaps asleep at the wheel.

Then more companies were pulled into the crap storm, including other traditional American cuisine brands like KFC, Pizza Hut and Starbucks, who were all refitted with fancy new names. Pizza Hut was rebranded “Red Hat Restaurant,” and Starbucks was made over into “White-Haired Woman Coffee.” 

Would the madness never end?

But then one person’s comment on that now infamous McDonald’s Weibo post got me scratching my head.

“Now I’m thinking about McDonald’s,” it simply read.

Then it dawned on me. Have we all been duped? Has this been, all along, just another way to get us thinking about exotic delicacies from the other side of the world?

We live in a society dominated by a multitude of mouthwatering Chinese dishes. Too many to list, in fact. Kung pao chicken, mapo tofu, wonton, dumplings, dim sums, Peking duck, Lanzhou pulled noodles. It’s a wonder any international offerings get a look-in at all!

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China is a paradise for foodies with a multitude of yummy dishes.

Sure, you can find a few places here and there with Vietnamese, Indian, French, Japanese and Thai food, but these restaurants probably find it hard to break through the gorgeous smells of offerings from Sichuan, Jiangsu, Canton and Yunnan that waft from every street corner and alley with an allure hard to resist.

You can imagine how hard it must be for these poor international brands to attract attention on the streets of Baoji (Shaanxi Province), Baotou (Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region), Zhumadian (Henan Province) or Zigong (Sichuan Province), let alone on the Internet.

So maybe McDonald’s, quasi-representative of traditional American taste, actually fried up this furor as a way of getting us all thinking about, and craving, those authentic American flavors we all know and love. Quarter Pounder with cheese, Chicken McNuggets with BBQ sauce, Oreo McFlurry, the tangy McRib, and that secret Mac sauce ... Stop!

The fast food giant is already hugely successful the world over, especially in the advertising world. Any marketing or design expert will tell you that those very golden arches — the ones that caused such a debate in China this week — are not only a symbol of American cuisine, but of marketing gold. They’ll tell you that those very golden arches are constantly referred to as one of — if not the — most famous brands on this entire planet. They’re golden, all right!

With that in mind we should probably not altogether discredit the idea that maybe this is their latest marketing plan, a plan to get all of China to forget the spicy scents of Sichuan Province and instead remember the, err, taste of Ronald’s very own Szechuan sauce, if you are lucky enough to have tried it, that is.

I say good on them! Bravo! Maybe it’s a good idea to show some more love to these struggling foreign brands. McDonald’s and KFC and Pizza Hut definitely offer a taste of the exotic, and a bit of color and diversity to the Chinese cityscape. 

Just whatever you do, don’t ask for an upsize!

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