The Scoop: A meme about a $16 McDonald’s meal is causing headaches for Biden

Plus: Media relations oddities at Shein pop-up; Meta knew about underage users. 

A McDonald's meme is causing headaches for the president.

Late in 2022, a hungry diner walked into a McDonald’s in Idaho and ordered a smoky double quarter pounder BLT with fries and a Sprite. Normally this wouldn’t be the kind of thing the Washington Post would report on, but a photo of the $16.10 receipt went viral and became a rallying cry demonstrating how inflation was hitting ordinary Americans – and the blame landed at the feet of President Joe Biden.  

As often happens with social media, the story blurred and changed as it spread. The receipt was for a limited-edition burger, not the standard Big Mac that some outlets reported. And even as that meme spread, inflation was declining. 

Yet the image was so powerful it was flagged by the White House Office of Digital Strategy. But as the Washington Post reported, figuring out how to combat the meme was trickier than it seemed. 

What are we supposed to do, tell the president or Chuck Schumer to send a tweet saying, ‘Hey, most Big Macs aren’t that expensive?’ It would look ridiculous,” said an anonymous Democratic official.  



Why it matters 

Memes can be one of the trickiest bits of virtual weirdness for PR pros to counter. In this case, the meme isn’t truly mis- or disinformation. It’s a bit misleading and has been spun by people with their own agenda, but no one disputes the fact that someone bought a burger combo for more than $16. As that Democratic official noted, getting into the minutiae of a TikTok meme doesn’t look presidential and isn’t likely to sway anyone.  

But these are serious communications problems today that must be solved, whether you work for the president of the United States, McDonald’s or a much smaller entity.  

Biden and the Democrats are also struggling to communicate that the economy is doing great – no, really! – while Americans don’t feel great about their bank accounts. Here, too, social media is sharing its own, sometimes misleading tale, with some videos saying the economy is worse than the Great Depression (it isn’t). But the fact that so many are willing to believe it indicates the picture isn’t as rosy as the president paints, either.  

“We live in a reply guy world, and dunking on people [including the president] is what’s going to get even more engagement, and more engagement equals more money,” Brian Hanly, CEO of Bullish Studio, told the Post. 

It’s important to stay in touch with the feelings and needs of your audience, even when they don’t line up with your own facts and figures. Don’t downplay people’s emotions even as you work to change them. 

Editor’s Top Picks 

  • Shein, still working to dig itself out from the PR fallout surrounding an ill-fated influencer trip earlier this year to China, held a curious pop-up event that left a reporter from The Verge scratching her head. While the event, held in the basement at the Times Square Forever 21, seemed to satisfy customers, the reporter and photographer were informed only after arrival that they would only have 15 minutes in the large space once customers had been allowed in. “For a company that says it has nothing to hide, I found the pop-up experience strangely guarded – like Shein hadn’t learned much from its botched attempt at transparency,” wrote The Verge reporter Mia Sato. It’s important to be up front with journalists about what they’ll experience at your events. Last-minute surprises can make their way into the story in a way you definitely don’t want.  
  • Despite receiving more than a million reports about children under 13 using Instagram, Meta disabled only a tiny fraction of those accounts, according to a legal complaint from the attorneys general of 33 states and reported on by the New York Times. “Within the company, Meta’s actual knowledge that millions of Instagram users are under the age of 13 is an open secret that is routinely documented, rigorously analyzed and confirmed and zealously protected from disclosure to the public,” the complaint read. This case could have major repercussions on the social media giant and any company that appeals to young consumers. 
  • It’s the end of the year, which means it’s time to speculate about what the next holds. Axios checked in with Wall Street analysts to prognosticate about the year ahead. While Axios noted this is more of a vibe check than a true gauge of what will happen in 2024, it’s still good to check in. Here were their major predictions: 
  • Inflation will continue to fall. 
  • No more rate hikes – but will cuts start to come? 
  • An economic slowdown is coming … but a fairly modest one. Probably. 
  • No one could quite agree on what’s expected from the stock market. A meh year? Bullish? A bottom for the S&P? We’ll just have to find out.  

Allison Carter is editor-in-chief of PR Daily. Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn. 


One Response to “The Scoop: A meme about a $16 McDonald’s meal is causing headaches for Biden”

    J. Hart says:

    I think it’s important for people in the media to listen to stories about inflation with a sympathetic ear, not dismiss them. Even if the McDonalds customer had purchased a special meal, the cost 5 years ago would likely have been around $10, not $16. The objective value of goods hasn’t changed, but inflation has degraded our monetary supply, making the dollar cost to obtain that same value much higher. We’ll be living with these long-term effects of inflation for many years, even if the inflation rate is moderating.

    Dismissing the concerns of ordinary Americans, or trying to explain them away, makes the media seem detached from everyday reality and aligned one way or another with today’s polarizing political figures.

    It’s true that the economy is doing well, and the predictions of critics have not come to pass, but many people are finding that their paychecks are worth much less than they were 5 years ago. It’s legitimately harder for them to make ends meet. Everyone in the media would do better by being sympathetic to this reality rather than treat it as a viral flash-in-the-pan.

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