When you lead the pack, everyone comes after you. That's literally the strategy radio icon Howard Stern used to build his career. He would enter a new market and immediately call out whichever personality or DJ had the highest ratings, telling the audience how terrible that host was (he used stronger words).
That's essentially what happens to McDonald's (MCD) . As the leader in the fast-food space, the chain often has to deal with being targeted by its jealous rivals.
Yum Brands' (YUM) Taco Bell used that tactic in 2014 when it trolled McDonald's by having people named Ronald McDonald -- the name of the chain's iconic clown mascot -- try Taco Bell's new breakfast. Not surprisingly, they enjoyed it, and had lots of funny/mean things to say about Egg McMuffins and other McDonald's morning fare (but not a.m. mascot Early Bird, who by all accounts is delightful).
Wendy's (WEN) did something similar when in a recent ad it called McDonald's fries "cold and soggy," as a way to promote its new fries. That ad may have worked, but it likely wasn't as successful as a 2018 ad that compared Wendy's fresh-never-frozen burgers to McDonald's "dry," and flash-frozen, hamburgers (because people love Mickey D's fries).
Now, another rival, Jack in the Box (JACK) , has decided to attack/troll McDonald's. But this time it's going after something that's a real problem for the Chicago fast-food giant.,
Welcome to Shamrock Shake Season
It's fair to call McDonald's Shamrock Shake an iconic seasonal item. It's well-loved along the lines of Starbucks' (SBUX) pumpkin spice latte. It may not have quite as devout a following as that latte, but an awful lot of people look forward to the Shamrock Shake making its annual return. It has for this year as it's brought back for the St. Patrick's Day season.
The problem that Jack in the Box has exploited isn't that people don't like the Shamrock Shake. It's that McDonald's ice cream machines break down so often that a website, McBroken.com, exists solely to tell people whether the machine at their local McDonald's is operational or not.
Jack in the Box, which has its own limited-time Oreo (MDLZ) mint shake offering, has tried to poke fun at McDonald's' misfortune. To do that, the San Diego fast-food company which also has a clown mascot, has taken over Broken.com for a period of time, Nation's Restaurant News reported.
"During the March takeover, the website will instead direct customers looking for a green milkshake to Jack in the Box for its limited-time Oreo cookie mint shake, which is scheduled to be available in restaurants" on March 3, NRN's Lisa Jennings wrote.
McBroken showed that about 11% of all McDonald's ice cream machines were down as of the afternoon of March 3, but some markets -- New York and Seattle most notably -- had more than 30% of their ice cream machines down.
Should McDonald's Be Shamrock Shaken?
Franchise owners and customers have expressed concern about the broken ice cream machines. Going to McDonald's on a warm day and ordering an ice cream, only to find out you can't get one, would certainly be frustrating. But ice cream is an add-on, a secondary offering for most McDonald's customers.
No company likes having its flaws called out publicly, but McDonald's likely has little to worry about when it comes to losing business over this promotion. Sure, some die-hard ice cream fans will check McBroken.com and divert their business to Jack in the Box.
That's not likely to be even noticed by McDonald's, which ignored Wendy's and Taco Bell when they tried their stunts. McDonald's, of course, has not been so shaken by criticism about its ice cream machine to do the one thing that would make McBroken.com irrelevant -- fix its faulty ice cream makers.