The Impact of External Forces on McDonald’s

In an introductory marketing course, educators often find that one of the more challenging topics is discussing the effects external forces have on a marketing organization. One reason it is challenging is that students become too focused on learning the basics of marketing. That is, they expend most of their energy trying to understand the key marketing mix decisions (i.e., product, price, promotion, distribution). Because most of their attention is directed at the basics, understanding where such external forces as governmental involvement, economic conditions and cultural changes fit in can be difficult to grasp.

Another reason may lay with where external forces are presented in some marketing textbooks. Many place the discussion in the first few chapters of these books, before students learn about the nuts-and-bolts of marketing. Consequently, they have a hard time understanding how external factors impact marketing decisions since they have yet to learn about these decisions. (Note: This is a key reason why our discussion of external forces appears at the back end of our KnowThis: Marketing Basics book as it makes discussion of this topic more relatable for students.)

But whether discussed at the beginning of a course or toward the end, there is little doubt the best way to explain the impact of external forces is through the use of real world examples. And a good example to share with students is this one from the Washington Post. It reports on a particular external force that has caused McDonald’s to make changes to its marketing plans. The problem facing McDonald’s has to do with their highly recognizable costume character, Ronald McDonald. Due to a rash of news about so-called ?scary clowns,? that have rattled towns and college campuses in the U.S. and Europe, McDonald’s has decided it needs to pull back on using Ronald McDonald for promotional purposes. Since McDonald?s likely has already spent money crafting promotional messages and planning events featuring Ronald McDonald, the decision to lay low may represent a wasted marketing expense.

Unlike what Samsung is facing with its cellphone recall, where the problem appears to be of its own making, McDonald’s problem is not something they could have controlled or could have seen coming. Thus, a classic example of an uncontrollable external force.