Why consumers are hatin' McDonald's new slogan

A good corporate slogan should be catchy and functional, reminding consumers of why they like a brand in a single, bite-sized phrase.

By that measure, McDonald's (MCD) new slogan is apparently failing to hit the mark, drawing criticism and a good deal of ridicule from consumers. The misfire comes at a crucial time for the world's largest burger chain, which is struggling with declining sales and profits.

The new slogan is "Lovin' Beats Hatin," a riff on McD's current slogan of "I'm Lovin' It." But people are calling the new brand phrase "terrible" and "piss-poor." According to The Wall Street Journal, the new slogan will be incorporated into an ad campaign early next year that aims to promote happiness over Internet hate. Unfortunately for McDonald's, the new slogan is stirring up plenty of snark and negativity all on its own.

So why are consumers having such an adverse reaction to the new tagline? One reason might be the presence of the word "hatin'," given that slogans almost always avoid using negative words in their carefully crafted phrases.

McDonald's CEO on the "McChallenges" ahead

On top of that, the slogan doesn't directly link back to McDonald's main product -- food -- but instead appears to lecture consumers about how they should be feeling. "I'm Lovin' It" works because the "it" can be interpreted as referring to McDonald's food, giving consumers the idea that they'd love to dig into a Big Mac and fries whenever they hear the phrase.

At their best, slogans are carefully crafted nuggets, creating a seamless fit between the brand and the tagline, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Business Research. A clear message tends to win over consumers, as well as a slogan that's likable, the researchers found.

Some consumers "will be completely thrown off by the dramatic transition from the warm and fuzzy 'I'm lovin' it,' to the negative emotion-laden 'Lovin' Beats Hatin'," Piyush Kumar, assistant professor at University of Georgia's Terry College of Business wrote to CBS MoneyWatch in an email. Kumar is an author on the slogan study published by the Journal of Business Research.

So far, "Lovin' Beats Hatin'" doesn't appear to be winning on either clarity of message or likability. Interestingly, the Journal of Business Research study found that McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It" slogan is among those that consumers find most memorable.

McDonald's looks to break out of recent sales slump

One positive move for McDonald's is that the new slogan won't replace "I'm Lovin' It," according to the Journal. Instead, "Lovin' Beats Hatin'" will be used to provide an extra marketing push starting early next year, including a 60-second advertisement that will be created for the Super Bowl on Feb. 1. The Super Bowl is considered the biggest advertising event of the year, with many viewers tuning in to watch for the sake of the commercials.

McDonald's said the tagline, as reported by the Journal, is "not a new slogan for McDonald's," but didn't provide details. A spokeswoman wrote in an email, "We're always working with our partners on great new creative. It's highly speculative and premature to talk about Super Bowl ads and future campaigns for next year."

Adding the word "hatin'" to the slogan is risky for McDonald's given recent criticism over the quality of its food. In July, Consumer Reports named McDonald's burger the worst tasting of all the major U.S. burger chains. Some diners are turning to rivals because they view McDonald's burgers as too expensive for the quality, Bloomberg reported earlier this month.

"The slogan is a misdirected strategic response at several levels to the large number of adverse opinions about the firm's food and employment practices that have recently surfaced over the Internet," Kumar noted. "It appears to be a defensive tactic that seems to take a condescending approach towards those who may have taken an adversarial position to the firm or the brand."

Asked in a recent interview with CBS Sunday Morning about the Consumer Reports ranking, McDonald's chief executive Don Thompson noted that the company is "a big target."

"If you attack McDonald's, you'll get press. And so, you know, just about any and everyone will attack McDonald's for something," he said.