How much would you charge to stand in line for a Quarter Pounder?

In America, we call people who are paid to talk up a product "street teams" and marketers avidly pursue "trendsetters" to tout their products. Movie studios regularly offer free screenings to housewives and hairdressers, other companies give out hundreds of free t-shirts and ball caps, or offer free samples. It's just part of our regular commerce.

But in Japan, apparently, this practice is not so transparent, and McDonald's has found itself caught in a public relations pickle, with some special sauce.

Trying to drive up hype for the debut of a new Double Quarter Pounder with cheese at a branch devoted just to the Quarter Pounder in Midosuji-Suomachi in Osaka, the PR company in charge of the event is charged with paying 1,000 people an hourly wage of 1000 yen to stand in line, and also paid for their purchases. About 15,000 people visited the store on that day, but only about 2,000 people are reported to have stood in line for any length of time, so roughly half of the hype was bought. One blog says that the key trendsetters -- the ones who camped over night, trying to drive up interest -- were actually on the payroll.Is this a sign that McDonald's new concept Quarter Pounder shops, which just sell Quarter Pounders, are not living up to their promise already? A lot is riding on the concept, as the new front in the burger wars is on these specialty concept shops. Burger King is teeing up "Whopper Bars," and hopes that the concept draws in more hungry customers, and also just launched its "Whopper Virgins" campaign, to much consternation.

With the economy stagnant and fast food sales actually pretty healthy, it's a strange time for these companies to be ramping up marketing in such a desperate way. They've got the market on cheap food cornered. Isn't that enough? Do they really need so many gimmicks?

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