by Mary Shyne
Check your calendar. Is it April 1st? It is not. This recently-leaked ad might still be a hoax, but at least we know it’s not a seasonal prank. And if it is indeed a joke, it is a rather cruel one to play on the nation’s McRib aficionados, who are at this very moment lost in reverie over the idea that they will soon be able to enjoy their boneless, bastardized meat in a more elegant manner befitting the finest hors d’oeuvres.
Sophistication aside, purists will raise the obvious question: Why complicate a classic? Of course, the glossy Photoshop gleam lends these bite-size porkish products an edible aesthetic, but consider the logistics of actual consumption. How is the average gourmand to enjoy these slathery nuggets without sustaining intolerably glutinous fingers? Perhaps they are served with cutlery, or a wet-nap. (And, hopefully, an antacid.)
Despite the surfeit of feverish Internet speculation, based solely on this one picture floating around the web, McDonald’s has released no information about the McRibbles-a stark contrast to media blitz that preceded the introduction of the Double Down. But then the McRib has always cut a shadowy figure-mysterious in both its composition and its availability.
Since it first released the McRib in 1981, McDonald’s has constantly confused the consumers who grew devoted to the product. Pulled from the market after poor sales, the McRib reared its saucy, pork-flavored head once again in 1994 as a promotional tie-in to the Flintstones movie (presumably at the request of John Goodman).
The ultimate tease came in 2005, where McDonalds launched a two-pronged marketing campaign-simultaneously staging a “McRib farewell tour” while acting as the organizers of an online “Save the McRib” campaign. Three subsequent McRib tours have satisfied/taunted America.
At least Shamrock Shake followers-another sect of McDonald’s deranged cultists-can be assured of a Saint Patrick’s Day-centered release date. A quick chat with “AJ” on the McDonald’s hotline yielded no such information about McRib or McRibbles. While the McRib tours happened last fall, the much-referenced McRib locator reports a McRib sighting in New York City as recently June 3rd-yes, this very day!
It is exactly this elusiveness that contributes to unparalleled McRib fanaticism. Does the readily-available Big Mac get this sort of devotion? (Well, maybe from this guy.) The McRib even achieved its apotheosis as an American cultural meme in 2003, when it was parodied on “The Simpsons.”
It seems McDonald’s has stumbled upon the greatest marketing tactic of all: turning its sandwich into an urban legend. Specialty items at other fast food chains-like the Chipotle Chicken/Asian Chicken at Wendy’s or, arguably, Burger King’s salads-are too easily accessible to generate mystique. Perhaps sensing the wisdom of McDonald’s approach, Taco Bell only puts its Cheesy Gordita Crunch on the menu sporadically. (Spoiler alert: You can special order them!) Like Big Foot, McRib sightings are rare and its taste questionable.
Proponents of the McRib-and there are some-seem to enjoy the taste despite (because of?) its disturbing similarity to elementary school cafeteria fare. The hype machine behind the Double Down–KFC’s specialty item-might have generated a thousand “taste-and-reaction” videos across the blogosphere, but did any of those brave tasters have much more of a reaction than “I need water immediately”?
McRibbers, on the other hand, seem to genuinely enjoy the spongy meat-like product and the cloyingly sweet barbecue sauce in which it is draped. If these pint-sized McRibs are real and not an elaborate extension of the McRib viral campaign, will devoted McRibbers be willing to make the conversion from hand-held to McRibble? Given current consumer preferences, where products continually grow smaller to indicate innovation and complexity, it is quite possible that they will. Do keep in mind that we are talking about fast food, though: People want to shovel as much of that crap into themselves as cheaply as possible. Perhaps a super-sized bucket of McRibbles will prove a happy solution.
Mary Shyne is a recent NYU graduate, Bushwick-based writer, and fast food connoisseur. She blogs about fast food here.