Mc Donald’s launched an aggressive promotion in Argentina a couple of days ago, cutting the price of a Big Mac for the second time during the last several weeks from 8 to 7 Pesos. This is almost a 40% discount on the sandwich’s standard price of 11.5 Pesos, which was still in place last July.
I probably haven’t walked into a Mc Donald’s restaurant during the last 10 years and Buenos Aires is perhaps the last place on earth where I would do that, so I hadn’t realized how bizarrely expensive a Big Mac here is until I saw one of the billboards advertising the promotion:
At the current exchange rate of 3.8 Pesos per US Dollar, Argentines hand 3 USD to Ronald McDonald every time they indulge in his (in)famous sandwich.
The current promotion celebrates the arrival of spring and will last about two months, so that would bring the average price of a Big Mac in Argentina to approximately 10.75 Pesos for the year, which still amounts to 2.8 USD — only 70 cents cheaper than in the US, where a Big Mac sells on average for 3.50 USD.
It boggles my mind that people are willing to pay so much for a Big Mac in a country that is famous all over the world for its incredibly high value for money when it comes to food.
A beef empanada at any pastry shop or cafe here sells for 3 Pesos, the beef in it is most probably grass fed and arguably the best quality in the world, versus whatever Mc Donald’s uses in its beef-patty look-alikes. Two empanadas provide more and much better calories than a Big Mac — for half the price.
Sadly, this has to be one of the clearest examples of McBrainwashing on earth. I’m sure that if respectable chain like Smith & Wollensky were to open a restaurant here to offer American-style steak dinners, no amount of marketing would enable them to charge anything remotely close to their prices in the US. Even after a few years of rampant inflation, a superb steak dinner with home-made fries, salad and half a bottle of wine costs 40 pesos here — 10.50 USD.
But as soon as Ronald McDonald waves his magic wand, you have Argentines paying 3 USD for Big Macs.
As is usually the case, the company’s worse victims are kids. Argentine kids are as likely as any to fall for Ronald’s irresistible charm, and sadly, parents allow him to feed them with his concoction of sugar, saturated fat and fun, even when the company has been accused of several deaths of children infected with E. coli during the last few years.
There’s a rather Panglossian way of seeing a silver lining to this story: as long as Big Macs are kept at 11.50 Pesos, the poor and the homeless will not be able to afford them. This will perhaps prevent Argentina of importing one of America’s worse social paradoxes: the obesity of the poor.
But still, seeing the company experiment with promotions like the one running at the moment sends a chill down my spine. I can’t help thinking of Ronald McDonald as an evil red-haired drug pusher, temporarily lowering the price of his stuff to get more kids hooked to it and being able to charge them a higher price in the future.
A common stereotype of Buenos Aires portrays its people as having a natural talent for sweet-talk and persuasion, with the mythical tango-dancing latin lovers and legendary con artists as extreme cases.
So you would expect Argentines to be particularly well trained in detecting rip offs, to be endowed with a strong immunity against gullibility. Hopefully that’s the case, and sooner rather than later they’ll realize that the only reason why they patronize McDonalds is because they have naively bought into the company’s massive capacity for Bullsh*tting.