McDonald’s Corp.’s “Frork” video last week has become something of an unexpected hit.
The video, featuring infomercial guru Anthony Sullivan and McDonald’s Chef Mike Haracz using the “supremely superfluous” utensil with fries as prongs to scoop up “topping droppings,” has been viewed nearly 2 million times on YouTube.
The video, and Frork giveaways last week, was used to promote the chain’s new line of Signature Crafted sandwiches — either chicken or burgers with a choice of two buns and three recipes, Pico Guacamole, Sweet BBQ Bacon and maple Bacon Dijon.
“Brands have to find ways to break through,” Sullivan said in an interview. “There’s a lot of noise out there.”
Breaking through the noise isn’t traditionally a problem for McDonald’s, the largest restaurant chain on the planet and the one with by far the biggest ad budget.
Yet in recent years, it has struggled to generate the same type of social media-friendly attention that has helped rivals like Burger King and Taco Bell win over customers.
McDonald’s has worked harder on that front in 2017. Earlier this year, the company gave away bottles of its Big Mac Special Sauce. It followed that up with a video featuring engineers who developed a straw specially designed for its chocolate-mint Shamrock Shakes — a video that spoofed new product announcements from technology companies like Apple.
So far, the effort appears to be working. Same-store sales in the first three months of the year increased 1.7 percent, easily outdistancing Burger King, despite difficult comparisons from the year before.
A belief that the company is on the verge of a winning streak has sent the company’s stock price skyward so far this year. The stock is up 20 percent year to date, and more than 50 percent since Steve Easterbrook was named CEO in early 2015.
The video came together relatively quickly, according to the company. McDonald’s worked with its public relations agency, Golin, to develop the Frork — which was based on the idea that consumers use fries to scoop up toppings that had fallen from their burgers, said Carey Beck, McDonald’s national account leader at Golin.
They signed up Sullivan, one of the most recognized pitchmen on television. Sullivan started out selling car wash products in England before he moved to the U.S. “on a whim” in the early 1990s. He eventually landed a gig with the Home Shopping Network before he went off on his own with Sullivan Productions.
Sullivan said he has shot more than 1,000 commercials over his 25-year career, but is selective about the products he endorses personally — Sullivan said he has only appeared in “maybe 50” commercials himself. “I only decided to be the front man for only a small percentage of products,” he said.
Such products have to follow a “fairly strict criteria,” meaning they have to have mass appeal at the right price.
McDonald’s, however, would prove too big to pass up, an opportunity to work with one of the best-known brands in the world.
The call came into the “hotline” at Sullivan Productions. “I’m used to my normal roster of As-Seen-On-TV products,” Sullivan said. “I thought, ‘This is a fairly big deal’ and rapidly returned the phone call.”
After hearing McDonald’s pitch, Sullivan said he went through his “usual sort of checklist.”
That means the product must solve a common problem, have mass appeal and needs to be priced right. He also has to like the product. “I’m a big breakfast burrito eater,” Sullivan said. “I’m a McDonald’s fan.”
But the McDonald’s ad was a little tongue in cheek — the script included phrases like, “This is a real problem. Wait. Is this a real problem? Probably not. But we solved it, anyway.”
“Obviously, there’s a very humorous play,” Sullivan said. “I jumped on it. I was honored to help out.”
Sullivan did not write the script. And he was thrilled when he read it. “I didn’t have to change a thing,” he said. “They get it.”
On Friday, the day McDonald’s launched the Frork, Sullivan found himself working at a local McDonald’s in Tampa. Sullivan said he knows the franchisee. At one point, he tried his hand at making one of the Signature Crafted sandwiches. “It was an epic fail,” he said. “It didn’t look good. I don’t have the skills.”
He did work up front, at the drive-thru window, handing out Frorks to customers.
“It was kind of fun to see people take them home,” Sullivan said. “Some people didn’t get it. Others were literally waiting by the door.”
Contact Jonathan Maze at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze
Correction: May 9, 2017 This story has been updated to clarify that Golin is a public relations agency.