In the lead up to this year’s edition of McHappy Day—the signature fundraising event for the Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC)—McDonald’s has launched a YouTube video that draws attention to the charitable work the organisation does to assist families who have children suffering from illnesses.
The video features compilation of clips heart-wrenching clips of families living in on the Kiwi-based Ronald McDonald Houses and is based on a Ronald McDonald House Auckland clip, which was published a year ago and has now been re-purposed with the goal of generating awareness of the third edition of the annual fund-raising appeal.
“RMHC runs four Ronald McDonald Houses, which every year care for more than 3,500 families who have a seriously ill child in hospital, family rooms in hospitals and a family retreat in Rotorua,” says Sarah Fitzpatrick, the communications executive for McDonald’s New Zealand.
“Through its commitment to RMHC McDonald’s has also assisted in helping children access dental care through the RMHC sponsored mobile dental units. Operating in Northland and Counties Manukau the $1 million plus units provide dental care to over 15,000 children each year.”
McDonald’s funds the initiative throughout the year by contributing ten cents of every Happy Meal sold to the continued maintenance of the Ronald McDonald Houses.
Every year, in an effort to further consolidate these efforts, McDonald’s arranges McHappy Day, which sees the fast food company donating one dollar from the sale of every Big Mac or Happy Meal to support the cause.
In addition to the YouTube video, McDonald’s has a created a simple microsite that provides information on what the event will include this year.
From now to McHappy Day on 18 October, McDonald’s will be donating all proceeds raised from its ‘Helping Hands’ and ‘Ronald socks’ initiatives directly to Ronald McDonald House, and on McHappy Day there will also be buckets in stores for donations.
McHappy Day was first launched 24 years ago in Australia, and it has since grown into a multi-national initiative that today involves 17 countries.
“McHappy Day is McDonald’s New Zealand’s biggest annual fundraising event for RMHC," says Fitzpatrick. "The inaugural McHappy Day was held on 19 November 2012 and raised $196,000. This year we are aiming to raise well over $200,000.”
And while McHappy Day does fund a noble cause in the Ronald McDonald Houses, it also plays an important role in positioning the McDonald’s brand as an entity that supports Kiwi families—an image that is far removed from general perception of a corporate giant led only by profits.
“McDonald’s has been an active part of New Zealand communities since 1976, and we are proud of the contribution we make,” says Fitzpatrick. “Our restaurants play important roles in their local areas, and we take our responsibility to be a good neighbour seriously.”
Over the course of the last year, McDonald’s has dedicated a significant portion of its comms to presenting itself as an organisation that’s open and interested in community development.
Last year, this resulted in the launch of the ongoing ‘Our Food, Your Questions’ campaign, which has seen the company respond to some of tough questions on how its food is produced.
During the FIFA World Cup, McDonald’s activated its All Whites sponsorship agreement through the SkillsZone website, which was created to enable younger football players to share their skills online.
More recently, McDonald’s also launched its ‘Think Again’ campaign, which aimed to redefine what it means to work at the fast food company.
Interestingly, as with the McHappy Day appeal, each of these campaigns was released digitally, presumably with the aim of connecting with the millennial target market that is showing a growing reluctance to purchase fast food.
Internationally, there has been a marked trend toward fast-casual dining options, with Forbes pointing out that brands such as McDonald's are struggling to stay relevant with millennial consumers, who are starting to turn to the healthier options offered by fast-casual competitors like Chipotle.
According to Forbes, fast-casual restaurant chains, including Five Guys and Corner Bakery Cafe, have multiplied over the past decade from 9,000 to more than 21,000, while McDonald’s locations in the States have hovered around 14,000.
Locally, McDonald’s is still a fast food juggernaut with 161 locations throughout New Zealand, but it is facing growing competition from the fast-casual movement, which has seen Pita Pit, Subway, Mexican restaurants, sushi restaurants and The Food Garage enjoy decent growth in the New Zealand market.
While the jury’s still on the supposed health benefits of many of these fast-casual options, perception is everything when it comes branding. And in this sense McDonald’s remains the corporate giant that sells unhealthy food, while the fast-casual industry is enjoying the benefits of being viewed as the slightly healthier option. But these dividing lines are by no means set in stone, and these days something as simple as an accidental tweet can significantly alter the way a brand is seen. Also, as the example of Whittaker's shows, selling healthy food isn't a prerequisite to being a loved brand.