on McDonald's Monopoly

What do you get when you cross a low-cost, addictive fast food chain with gambling? McDonald’s Monopoly.

For me, McDonald’s is a rare refuge, visited in the limbo of early hours when my judgement is otherwise impaired, and a craving for cheap, quick food starts to gnaw. For others, though, McDonald’s can be a more sober experience - a quick bite to eat on their way home from work, an inexpensive alternative to a meal deal at lunch. That’s all well and good; evidence claims that, in moderation, fast food can be a part of a healthy, balanced diet.

The problem arises, however, with the introduction of gamification. The marketing genii at McDonald’s must have patted themselves on the back when they first came up with the scheme in 1987, as it truly is an incredible ploy. For those unaware, the McDonald’s Monopoly is a yearly promotion that allows customers to win anything from a portion of chicken nuggets to £100,000 cash by collecting stickers that come with a selection of menu items. If you have a certain combination of stickers, then you can claim your prize. Of course, the people at McDonald’s are pretty smart, and the chances of you getting a set of stickers for a high-ticket reward are ridiculously slim - in the U.S. version, only two people can win the biggest prize.

It probably won’t come as a shock that gambling is addictive. It triggers all kinds of processes in our brains, but the thing that really gets its claws into your meaty mind is the anticipation. The anticipation as the wheels of a slot machine slow down, revealing a potential jackpot. The anticipation as you scratch the silver covering off a lottery card to expose potential millions. The anticipation as you unlock your phone to reveal a potential message from a friend (although smartphone addiction is another subject for another time). The anticipation as you peel back the sticker on your McFood to find out if you have, potentially, won a hundred thousand pounds.

It shouldn’t then be a massive leap of the imagination to posit that the combination of gambling and cheap, convenient and tasty food could cause a few problems. Case in point: I’m a very infrequent visitor to McDonalds, as such I wind up there maybe once every few months. Last time I was there, I got some chips and a vegetable wrap, which led to my discovery of the Monopoly. After having it explained to me by a rather disorientated friend, I thought I might throw my hat into the metaphorical ring - after all, tipsy Jacob gets what tipsy Jacob wants. I ordered some nuggets. They came less than a minute later, with the shiny sticker inviting me to peel it back to impart the riches beneath. And peel I did, to discover, against the odds, I had won! Now, I had only won a portion of chips, but it still counted. It didn’t really matter that I wasn’t even that hungry. I was a winner.

Knowing me, had I been further gone I would have woken up the next morning next to a pile of stickers and a stack of receipts, feeling bloated and unsatisfied. A bullet I, thankfully, managed to dodge.

Cautionary anecdote aside, the fusion of such a powerful motivator with such a convenient product is one that is, if not legally shady then at least ethically spurious, and by overriding their customer’s basic instinct and playing against the unavoidable chemistry of their brains, McDonald’s walks a fine line between clever marketing and outright exploitation.

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