McDonald's: fast food brand's Twitter page
McDonald's: fast food brand's Twitter page
A view from Bexy Cameron

Social media's clean eating trend is in conflict with millennials' love of fast food

Milllennials' relationship with food, drink and socialising is shifting, writes Amplify's creative director.

News that McDonald's is considering home delivery isn’t solely about increasing the golden arches’ world domination. It’s also about appealing to millennials’ need for instant gratification.

McDonald’s is a brand that’s highly dependent on young people, especially the extremely desirable demographic that according to Young Blood research comprises the 13- to 15-year-olds who have the highest percentage of disposable income and the twenty-somethings who spend a vast amount of their cash on food (23%).

From the two-hour delivery slots offered by Amazon Prime Now to the insta-cab expediency of Uber, this generation is growing up in a culture of ultra convenience. The desire to have everything served up on a plate at breakneck speed is shaping young people’s needs and expectations. They are the consumers of tomorrow, so brands that don’t deliver on these expectations may not have much of a future.

So all credit to McDonald’s for staying ahead of the curve by investigating the business potential of home delivery. But if appeasing young people is the primary driver, facilitating increased convenience is only half the answer.

When speaking to 5000+ young people as part of Young Blood, 70% of 16- to 19-year-olds classified being unhealthy with "eating too much fast food", over actually having an illness (27%) and even excessive drinking (62%).

So, in the battle for millennial money, McDonald’s has another hurdle to clear – balancing this generation’s desire for convenience food against its growing penchant for clean eating.

The relationship between young people, food, drink and socialising is shifting. A quick look at any British high street on a Saturday night shows that McDonald’s is still popular with millennials. But, with the social media fuelled rise of clean eating, it’s not a position McDonald’s can take for granted.

Every social platform is inundated with fitness gurus, cleanses and motivational messages like "Eat green, train mean" aimed at young people, and usually coming from young people.

For young people, food has become a playground for one-upmanship, a measuring stick of cool. The generations most closely aligned with the organic and whole foods movements are Gen X and Gen Y. 39% of 18- to 24-year-olds post photos of their meals online while eating out and 90 new photos hashtagged #foodporn are uploaded to Instagram every minute.

For young people, food has become a playground for one-upmanship, a measuring stick of cool. 

Unfortunately for McDonald’s, a Big Mac simply doesn’t cut the mustard with these "gastronomic voyeurs". And yet, it wouldn’t surprise me if a paid-up member of the Gen Y establishment can switch from salivating over Deliciously Ella to devouring a Big Mac in the space of five-minutes.

In the same way that this generation is banishing the booze but then turning to the bottle at moments of heightened stress, the desire for clean living can, for the moment at least, somehow coexist with the instant gratification of home delivered junk food.

It’s a strange tension, but one that encapsulates the complexities of Gen X and Gen Y. Call it hypocrisy or call it nuance, this generation is all about contradiction. They don’t want junk food but want everything now. They want clean food but can’t be doing with the slow processes involved in making it.

Young Blood’s ethnographic research and interviews keep throwing up the same sentiment – the struggle that young people felt with the "push-pull between how they want to be, and how they felt the world was forcing them to behave". So who will win this battle? It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Bexy Cameron is the creative director at Amplify.