There’s an anecdote in John Love’s book McDonald’s: Behind the Arches that tells of how Ray Kroc, the man who built the McDonald’s empire, once responded to a question on whether the company’s burgers contained worm meat by saying, “We couldn't afford to grind worms into our meat. Hamburger costs a dollar and a half a pound, and night crawlers six dollars.”
Although the veracity of the story has been questioned over the years, it still goes a long way to illustrate how accusations levelled at the fast-food giant have at times not only been false but also illogical.
Today, Wikipedia, Snopes and Scambusters all have sizeable sections dedicated to the alleged atrocities committed by the fast-food chain over the years. And this catalogue of offences ranges from chicken heads in Happy Meals and hypodermic needles in the playpens to milkshakes consisting of pig fat and burgers made of pink slime.
In response to the continued accusations, McDonald’s Canada recently launched a campaign that was based on the premise that transparency would help to unravel many of the myths associated with its offering.
The ‘Our food, Your Questions’ campaign invited members of the public to send in questions on any topics related to the food on the menu. Thousands of questions were sent in, McDonald’s provided answers and the exchanges were posted on the website. While some questions were answered with a serious PR tone, McDonald's also had a bit of fun with the correspondence.
When asked why the burgers looked better in the pictures than in real life, McDonald's Canada responded with a video that took a look behind the scenes to show what goes into the making of each advertisement.
In another example, instead of simply answering a question on whether the burgers contained 100 percent cow (including entrails) or 100 percent beef, the website moderators responded with the following image:
This campaign not only gave McDonald’s Canada a chance to state its side of the story, but also allowed the seemingly aloof industry giant to engage with customers on a ground level by addressing their concerns, no matter how small they were.
Following the success of the Canadian campaign, McDonald’s New Zealand has just launched a similar initiative on a website that was designed by Tribal DDB.
“We know people want to know more than ever before about the food they eat and that they demand more from brands like McDonald’s. Our Facebook page is a good litmus test for the types of things people want to know. We’ve gone one step further and created a way for Kiwis to have a direct, open and transparent conversation with us,” says McDonald’s New Zealand managing director Patrick Wilson.
Kim Bartlett, the communications manager for McDonald’s New Zealand, explains that although they already engage with 313,000 Facebook fans by answering their questions on a daily basis, this campaign aims to connect on a more personal level.
“We are responding to what Kiwis want. Many New Zealanders want to know where their food comes from, and this campaign gives them a chance to find out that information,” she says.
Bartlett also hopes that by answering the questions, they will “be able to debunk a few myths and preconceptions along the way.”
Questions sent in will be answered in text, graphic or image format, and Barlett says that they hope to use the best questions and answers in a TVC that will be launched in the near future.
Although McDonald’s promises to answer to all the difficult questions Kiwis ask, there are certain ground rules. The questions must be related to food, and Bartlett says, “McDonald’s will not be answering any questions related to human resources or those that are of a sensitive commercial nature.”