Inflation has been hard, but the meme about the $16 McDonald’s meal was misleading
It even caused a problem for the White House.
Sometimes, there are images that perfectly encapsulate a moment in time. In December 2022, a viral TikTok video featuring a burger meal at McDonald's that cost a whopping $16.10 went viral, and to many Americans struggling through inflation, the image rang true.
Topher Olive posted the TikTok video on December 10, 2022, showing a burger, large fries, and a large Coke that cost $16.10.
The price of a value meal at McDonald’s is something that every American understands. The Economist even uses the Big Mac sandwich as a tongue-in-cheek way of measuring the purchasing power between countries.
Surely, if a McDonald’s burger meal was becoming too expensive for the average American to eat for lunch every day, then the country must be headed in a disastrous direction. The image was the perfect weapon for those looking to blame President Biden for his handling of the economy in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the TikTok video posted by Olive was a bit misleading, and some major media outlets didn't provide proper context during their coverage.
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The item pictured in the meal was a limited-edition “smoky” double quarter pounder BLT. The “smoky” quarter pounder BLT is known as the “most expensive” single patty burger on the McDonald’s menu, and this guy ordered a double.
According to McDonald's, the “smoky” double quarter pounder BLT is two slices of melty American cheese, thick-cut Applewood Smoked bacon, fresh Roma tomatoes, shredded lettuce, smoky sauce—and two quarter-pound patties all served on a toasted sesame seed bun. It sounds tasty, but it also sounds a bit more expensive and ingredient-heavy than a Big Mac, which currently costs the average American $5.15.
The image was so influential that it was flagged by the White House Office of Digital Strategy, and it had no idea how to push back against the viral story. “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,” an anonymous Democratic official told The Washington Post.
The McDonald’s story further proves that it is nearly impossible to create a coherent national narrative when misleading information spreads faster than facts. As the country dives headfirst into the 2024 election cycle, the story is an excellent reminder for all of us to be skeptical of what we see being passed around online or to at least look a little closer at the receipts when provided.
Even though the McDonald’s story was misleading, it doesn’t mean that it will be easy for the Biden White House to paint a rosy picture of the economy for the average American. According to J.P. Morgan, the economy is performing "better than expected," consumer spending is "resilient," interest rates are stabilizing, inflation is improving and the unemployment rate is low.
But those abstract ideas are complex to communicate when the average American spends about $700 more monthly than they did 2 years ago.