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McDonald’s brings back McRib along with app to help find it

McDonald’s fabled McRib is back, and this time the fast food chain is introducing a mobile solution for tracking the elusive sandwich.

The McRib is famous, or perhaps infamous, for never sticking around long, being introduced every year before going away again. McDonald’s fans dutifully attempt to get one wherever they can – and with a new McRib Locator application, that task is made easier than ever.

McRib is back
McDonald’s McRib promotion is an exercise in control. For the uninitiated, roughly every year, McDonald’s abruptly announces the return of the pork sandwich.

For a few weeks, McRibs are available in limited supply from a limited number of McDonald’s locations. McRib lovers usually make a mad scramble to try and find where the closest McRib supplier is, giving a huge boost in visibility and traffic to McDonald’s in the process.

But one of the most maddening, and perhaps genius, aspects of the McRib campaign is how much of it is left up to customers. McDonald’s does not indicate where the McRib is available or for how long.

Over the years, there have been many fan-made McRib locating services that help customers find McRibs by cataloging where they have been spotted.

This year, McDonald’s is taking a different approach to its McRib campaign by offering its own first-party McRib locator in the form of a mobile app housed in Apple’s iMessage App Store.

The app makes use of a customer’s location by using their phone’s built-in location services. From there, it pinpoints the nearest location that is serving McRibs.

Since the app is housed in Messages, consumers can share the location of a McRib with their friends through messaging, allowing them to coordinate and trips and encouraging group outings to purchase the sandwich.

Mobile movement
The new app comes amid McDonald’s larger move towards digital, and mobile in particular, as it tries to target a younger, more digital-savvy audience.

In targeting that group, McDonald’s is banking on two trends, one larger and one still growing – mobile and messaging.

Mobile is overwhelmingly the channel of choice for many consumers, especially the younger crowd, for whom mobile is more a digital home than any other.

Releasing an app is a clear move to make mobile a priority at McDonald’s – a brand that, despite its size, has been mostly silent on the mobile front over the past few years compared to other chains who have embraced loyalty points and other high-functioning mobile features.

That changed recently with McDonald’s announcing that mobile ordering is finally coming to the restaurant (see story). After a few months of testing, McDonald’s will finally allow consumers to order food through mobile.

The second trend, messaging, is even more cutting edge, as younger mobile users increasingly are moving towards messaging over other forms of mobile platforms, including apps and the mobile Web.

McDonald’s may be one of the largest fast food chains in the world, but if it wants to keep up with a rapidly changing world, it will need to embrace mobile as the channel of the future. Luckily, with a McRib Locator and mobile ordering, it looks like the brand is well on its way to mobile acceptance.