Showing posts with label McDonald's. Show all posts
Showing posts with label McDonald's. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 25

Loving It Too Much: The McDonald's Campaign Backfire

In recent years, McDonald's has been making a real effort to change itself from being the flagship of unhealthy fast food to the pinnacle of quick service with healthy choices. The change has been mostly prompted by continuous assaults: Some are are fair. Some are not fair. And some are ridiculous.

The net sum of these varied stories is that the corporate giant is trying to make an admirable change, even if the totality of it continues to be trial and error. Sometimes, they get it right, like adding fruit to choices to the Happy Meal. And sometimes, they get it wrong, like the #McStories campaign.

Why McStories is a beautiful campaign with insidious results.

When I first saw the series of YouTube videos, I almost wrote a post about them. They are beautiful slices of Americana, featuring farmers who take great care in the produce they provide. I love the commercials. But I also hate the commercials.

I don't hate them because of their message or the personalized stories from the farmers. We could use more stories like these, given our country's bout with self-loathing. In fact, that was the reason I decided to pass on critiquing the campaign. The farmers certainly didn't deserve it.

Unfortunately, it was just a matter of time before someone else did. Yesterday, someone did in a tremendously coordinated and catchy fashion. It was only a matter of time before the whole thing went semi-viral. McDonald's has lost Twitter for awhile. It might even lose the entire campaign.

The social media crisis could have been simple enough to spot. The hashtag #McStories, which was meant to support the campaign, was more or less jacked. It was first jacked by PETA and then everyone started piling on with one rancid story about McDonald's after another. #McStories isn't about farmers anymore, at least not for the short term and maybe never.

The attack is no longer confined to Twitter either. It will migrate to other assets. The media coverage of the crisis only attracts more of the same, usually three-fold: people with agendas (like PETA), people with real gripes (like some of the tweet authors), and people who see an easy way to get attention (the attention-starved majority).

McStories is mostly true, but it comes across as a classic overreach. 

If there is one thing advertisers and marketers might take away from the McStories backlash, it's that forcing the marketing message, especially when it is supported by social media, will eventually backfire.

And that's why I hated the campaign. Anybody on the strategy side (because it's too much to ask the creatives to see it) could have seen the backlash coming miles away. Despite many successes, McDonald's house is too dirty to rest its laurels on a handful of true but spectacularly crisp stories.

On McDonald's side, Snopes investigated such beef claims years ago and found them to be mostly true. McDonald's also made progress to be more environmentally friendly, but it tends to miss some goals every year. And then there is always the question about nutrition, especially in terms of carbs, fat, and sodium. All in all, it's one giant hit and miss machine. That's not good enough for a McStories message.

Besides, the problem isn't so much where McDonald's gets its stuff. It's what McDonald's does to this stuff once it leaves the hands of conscientious farmers. It's the processing, recipes, additives, production, freezing, unfreezing, distribution, and in-store preparation that makes you wonder.

Those beautiful cows, lettuce heads, and potatoes are all destined to become something that ages at an impossibly slow pace. And until McDonald's begins to address that fact its operational systems have reached their carrying capacity to deliver the quality I once associated with them, it will continue to face stiff criticism as the the biggest quick service chain.

Personally, I think it's all too bad. McDonald's has plenty to take pride in, ranging from being a massive employer for first-time employees and iconic marketing successes to being a sound investment and a corporation that has blemishes but is trying to do something to clean them up instead of sweeping them aside. However, to make the case that the hamburger joint represents the backbone of family-owned American agriculture in order to deliver near farm-fresh ingredients to consumers ... sigh.

Friday, August 5

Minimizing Test Variables: For Better Marketing

marketing testsWhile larger marketing campaigns might include varied offers (e.g., A, B, C) relatively few marketers attempt to use scientific models to conduct marketing research. If they did, they would have clearer picture of consumers, especially online consumer groups or communities.

So why don't they? The most common reason is time, as any effective study group only tests for one variable at a time. Since most marketers do not have patience for true scientific models, they tend to test for multiple measures at one time or split variables (A, B, C) among demographics that they hypothesize are more likely to respond favorably to each variable.

An historic case study regarding mixed variables.

Unfortunately, mixing variables can have adverse or disastrous results. Probably one of the most famous accounts is tied to a 1996 McDonald's campaign, which became one of the most expensive marketing flops in history. You can find some background about the campaign on Wikipedia or a reference to it at The New York Times. But it's not the whole story.

Prior to the launch of the Arch Deluxe, McDonald's had simultaneously launched various deluxe versions of its burger across the United States — including one I was directly involved with. Out West, there was no Arch Deluxe (at least, not before the national rollout of the Arch). McDonald's had marketed the California Deluxe, which was also an adult burger with different ingredients.

California DeluxeThere were other regions with variations too. If memory serves me right, there were six regions (but I could be wrong here). And as much as the Arch Deluxe was test marketed in the Northeast, the California Deluxe was test marketed in primarily the West Coast.

Each test area also had localized campaigns, created by regional advertising agencies to market the burger. And the winner, determined by total sales, would be the one McDonald's would pick for a national rollout. The Arch Deluxe won, and none of the others were even mentioned again.

On the surface, it seemed to someone that the test market idea was a solid marketing approach. Until, of course, you consider the variables: different products, marketed to different test markets with different concentrations of population, using different messages (within McDonad's mandatories). Add it all up and the marketing study they created measured nothing, even though it had convinced McDonad's to invest $200 million into the campaign.

As a point of interest, the California Deluxe rivaled Big Mac sales in its test markets. But the smaller sampling size predetermined that the better burger was doomed out of the starting block.

A quick take on developing a better test market model, using the historic case study.

McDonald's could have created a different test model, but the timing to execute the campaign would have taken significantly longer. It could have introduced three burgers in one test market with a singular campaign asking people to choose. It could have rolled out one burger at a time in several areas across the United States. Or, well, any number of ways with an emphasis on minimizing variables.

It's one of the lessons marketers (and bloggers for that matter) would be well served to apply. In science, medicine, or psychology, for example, researchers generally create an experimental group (one receiving an independent variable) and a control group (one receiving a similar experimental situation, but without the variable), with the participants randomly assigned.

applesProvided there is no other tampering, the variable could be anything. It could be two products, one with an "improved feature." It could be the same product, with different creative campaigns. It could be a specific incitement offer. It could be the same everything, but tested in two or more different test markets. Or maybe two different price points. And so on and so forth.

In terms of social media, for example, narrowing the variable can help marketers determine what content different social networks respond to or the style of communication. (Managing several social programs, we've seen differences in each network community emerge over several months.)

The point is to narrow the measurable variables, which increases the reliability (the ability to get the same results in successive studies) and validity (the ability to measure what you want to measure). The benefit is increasing the return on investment by running continuous tests until patterns emerge.

In the case of the Deluxe debacle, for example, they might have found that people in the Northeast also preferred the California Deluxe (or one of the others) over the Arch Deluxe too. But ironically, no one will ever know. Instead, all they learned was the Arch Deluxe could not support itself nationwide.

Wednesday, June 9

Listening: The Most Important Lesson In Communication

Yesterday, Nevada held its primary elections. If you were listening to pundits, it was a night filled with surprises. If you were listening to the public, most races played out exactly as expected. And despite a few upsets, some people still aren't listening.

Listening isn't only about politics. Listening is about business too.

There are dozens of studies and hundreds of surveys making the rounds right now. All of them are hoping to catch a snapshot of how consumers might behave. Most of them have useful data, but most people don't listen. They only "hear."

There are several developing stories that underscore the point. It's why Utterli died. It's why Digg is struggling (but probably not dead). It's why the BP oil spill response has eclipsed Hurricane Katrina as the worst response in American history. It's why not everyone is cheering Santa Clara, Calif., for banning Happy Meal toys. And, there are dozens of more examples.

Politicians are "hearing" constituents. Business executives are "monitoring" social media. But few are "listening."

Utterli heard Utterz turned some people off at a glance, but they didn't listen to how people came to love their enduring cow mascot. Digg heard that being allowed to share content among a Digg network fueled some spammers, but they didn't listen to understand that people love to share social media while tuning out spammers anyway. There are several other social networks in jeopardy too.

BP and the Obama administration hear that people don't think they did enough, but they are not listening closely enough to understand the public wants them to admit their mistakes and that they don't have anything under control. Santa Clara elected officials that heard parents wanted something done about childhood obesity, but they didn't listen to responsible parents who consider McDonald's and Happy Meal toys a once-every-few-months treat. They can make decisions about Happy Meal toys with their own pocketbooks.

Even researchers are becoming deaf nowadays. There is another portion of the Harris Interactive poll I mentioned yesterday that proves the point. Harris Interactive couldn't understand why 70 percent of Americans gave the Constitution high marks, but low marks to the government (43 percent) and political system (23 percent) it empowers. They heard, but didn't listen.

Most Americans think that the political system to driving government is operated well beyond the Constitution, which was originally written as the people's contract with its government. This also set the stage for a volatile election cycle because people don't believe politicians are meeting their commitment to protect the Constitution.

How a lack of listening undermined several campaigns in Nevada.

If you want to understand how this all played out in Nevada, never mind what the pundits say. Sue Lowden, who is a dynamic business woman I had the pleasure to do work with years ago, didn't lose the primary because of her chicken comment. The gaffe could have easily been corrected, but her campaign didn't know how (we did, ho hum).

But what really underscored the race was that she wasn't listening. Candidate Sharron Angle was listening. People are tired of hearing about what establishment representatives want to do for them. They want elected officials to represent them.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid isn't listening. Almost immediately after Angle won (he'll face her in the general election), Reid's campaign launched a release attempting to label her ideas as "wacky." Someone didn't think to tell his staff that the block who voted for her might be put off by it. At least she's representing Nevada, some might say.

The story played out the same in the gubernatorial race. Gov. Gibbons could have turned his time in office around, but he consistently didn't listen. It wasn't the economy that cost him his incumbency. It was how he handled the economic downturn. While he made some of the right decisions, he only "heard" people didn't want tax increases. That's true (they can't afford them). But what he didn't hear is that they wanted him to demonstrate leadership. By the time he did, it was too late.

In the one race I was engaged with, it was much the same. Tim Williams was an underfunded underdog. His opponent was "anointed." Some insiders were so convinced that he could not win that they advised him to directly attack his opponent. He refused. The public is tired of games. Williams listened.

Are you listening or are you hearing?

Whether it is a political campaign or consumer product, the public is much more sensitive to who is listening and who is not. Generally, you can tell the difference in whether they react to what they hear or respond because they are listening.

Case in point: the Obama administration thinks that they didn't communicate their response to the BP oil spill clearly enough. So, he reacts by defending what the government did do. He's not listening. People don't care about what they did do or whose "ass" he intends to kick. They want someone to clean up the spill. Use hair. Use hay. Use air filters. Just clean it up and stop making it worse.

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Friday, April 2

Targeting Mascots: Corporate Accountability International

In one of the more absurd public relations campaign linkages to date, Corporate Accountability International is making the case that the best way to prevent childhood obesity is to retire Ronald McDonald. According to the release, the percentage of obese children has tripled in children ages 2-5, and quadrupled in children ages 6-11.

"This clown is no friend to our children or their health," said national spokesperson Stacey Folsomof, Corporate Accountability International. "No icon has ever been more effective in hooking kids on a harmful product. Kids have become more obese and less healthy on his watch. He's a deep-fried Joe Camel for the 21st century. He deserves a break, and so do our kids."

According to the release, parents have a growing recognition that the fast food industry is the primary driver, with close to 60 percent of Americans feeling that the industry is responsible for the growing epidemic. The report, Clowning With Kids' Health, analyzes how Ronald McDonald and other children's marketing are at the heart of current trends.

Highlights From The Clowning Study.

• Two out of three Americans have a favorable impression of Ronald McDonald, which is the result of positive branding for 50 years.
• More than half "favor stopping corporations from using cartoons and other children's characters to sell harmful products to children."
• 47 percent support retiring Ronald as a corporate mascot, with 46 percent of those with a favorable impression of him also wanting to retire him.

How My Son Debunked The Study.

Since nobody in our office could find any evidence of children, ages 2-5, riding up to McDonald's drive-thru windows on tricycles to support their habit of Happy Meals and shakes, I asked them how do these kids get the merch? Blank stares. So I asked my son, age 11. He's on spring break.

"The few times we ever go near McDonald's, Mom drives us," he said, then amused. "But the image of Ronald McDonald doesn't make me want hamburgers. I would blame the Hamburglar."

Interesting. Based on his input, we might conclude that parents who drive their kids to McDonald's excessively might actually be responsible for childhood obesity. Or, if you prefer the wit and wisdom of an 11-year-old boy exposed to countless commercials, it might be the dude in the striped pajamas.

More likely, the real curators of childhood obesity beyond parents are school cafeteria lunches. You see, with the exception of schools smart enough to adopt the National Farm to School Network, students seem to be served a nutritional menu that could be below even McDonald's standards. Still, I wasn't sure. So I asked one of our clients, Allen Wong, who manages Kung Fu Plaza in Las Vegas, since Thai food is generally considered the healthiest in the world.

He cited a February 2008 article in Edutopia that compared school lunches in the United States, Russia, and Japan. Americans are eating turkey dogs and tater tots. Russians are eating beef, beet soup, and rye bread. And Japanese students are eating wonton miso soup, spinach and Chinese cabbage, rice, and milk.

Interesting. Based on his input we might draw some other conclusions. First, if Corporate Accountability International really intended to do something about childhood obesity, it might start with school lunches or the candy and snacks some school districts use as rewards. Second, the study proves there is a healthy trend in this county to blame everybody for the purchasing decisions of parents, except the parents.

Of course, if you don't see any of these points as glimmers of truth, then all I can suggest is you better be careful this weekend. I heard that the Easter Bunny is in town and he's ready to force feed children baskets full of candy. Except at our house. He tends to leave coins tucked inside those plastic eggs.

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Tuesday, January 26

Being McNaughty: McDonalds v. McFest

Lauren McClusky, 19, raised more than $30,000 for the Chicago chapter of the Special Olympics by hosting a series of McFest concerts in 2007 and 2008. In 2009, she had to use those funds for attorney fees after McDonald's Corp. laid claim to all things "Mc."

It doesn't matter that McClusky's mark, which was filed in June 2008, and published for opposition in February 2009, bears no resemblance to the golden arches. McDonald's has taken the position that "McFest" is similar enough to the brand name McDonald's and its family of 'Mc' trademarks that it is likely to cause confusion under trademark standards and/or dilute its valuable trademark rights.

Based on the illustrations above, it seems to be a slow day for McDonald's attorneys. Primarily in the last ten years, McDonald's has indeed filed dozens of trademark applications for "Mc" names and various combinations with the letter "M." Many of those names (such as McPick, McMax, MCDTV, McMiracle Field) are all dead; cancelled or abandoned. So what makes this one different?

"We have made several attempts to resolve this matter amicably, because we recognize this event is for charity fund-raising," said Ashlee Yingling, spokesperson for McDonalds, in a statement to NBC Chicago. "We have offered to help the event organizers cover costs in selecting a new name for their event; we have suggested other variations of this word that they could use."

Unrelated names don't dilute brands, but poorly thought out legal action might.

The majority of stories and posts centered on this trademark scuffle are largely negative, especially in Chicago. The Consumerist asks Are all things "Mc," automatically McDonald's? The Chicago Sun-Times points out that McDonald's has deep pockets for a legal fight. And Market Watch might have investors wondering why MCD would waste potential McDividends.

That is not to say all the stories are negative. The Legal Satyricion sides with the corporate claim, arguing that McDonald's has not filed to prevent the name from being used. It merely filed an opposition to McClusky’s attempt to secure a trademark registration for “McFest.” Boo hoo McClusky, they said.

While it is a good point (and I'm not an attorney), the opposition could become boo hoo for McDonald's. A ruling against the opposition, which could happen given McClusky's name also has an "Mc" and she is not entering a competing service (like a restaurant chain), potentially opens the doors for more "Mc" usage, not less.

At minimum, there is that public relations cost to consider. While companies have every right to protect their brands, it seems to me that the only one making the connection that McFest would have anything to do with McDonald's is McDonald's. And now, because of the publicity around the opposition, the company has created the implication that the two are somehow connected. They weren't.

So, legal questions aside, one has to wonder whether McDonald's is diluting its own brand at a time when it is much more prudent to keep focusing on those fourth quarter profits (up 23 percent). It could have been just as easy to allow "MC FEST," which was limited to a company organizing, arranging, conducting, and producing concerts and live events, to peacefully coexist. And, given the charity, McDonald's may have elevated the brand by eventually supporting the teen.

Monday, December 29

Advertising Pain: Agency Outlook For 2009

As goes mainstream media, ad agencies might follow.

For a little over a year, mainstream media and marketing has continued to tumble. In fact, according to AdAge, Wal-Mart Stores and McDonald's Corp. were the only two of Advertising Age/Bloomberg AdMarket 50 stocks to see gains.

The rest of the 48 marketer, media and agency stocks were all down in 2008, with most dropping double digits in value. Not surprisingly, McClatchy Co. fared the worst of all, down 91 percent.

As for ad agencies, they are struggling too. In October of 2008, AdAge reports agency employment fell to 182,400, a loss of 6,200 jobs from the business-cycle staffing peak. Combined market capitalization of the Big Four agency firms — Omnicom, WPP, Interpublic Group of Cos., Publicis Groupe — in December 2008 was $23.4 billion, not dramatically above the June 2007 market cap of WPP alone ($18.3 billion).

While some of it can easily be traced to the recession, not all of it is a byproduct of tough economic times. Advertising agencies and marketers seem to be struggling because fewer and fewer advertisements are capable of cutting through the clutter. Perhaps it's no coincidence that Wal-Mart won after capturing understated consumer sentiments with its "Save Money. Live Better." campaign.

Ad Agencies Will Have To Listen In 2009

While some pinpoint the problem to the advertising industry's relatively slow embrace of social media as suggested by a promotional video for Age of Conversation 2, another part of the equation is simpler still.

Remember the Matrix? In 1999, the Matrix took audiences by storm and won four Oscars, including Best Visual Effects. Four years later, audiences hadn't had enough, but were already saying that The Matrix Reloaded was a little too much of the same. By the time Revolutions hit theaters, the franchise had long jumped the shark.

The advertising industry has done exactly that. In the early 1990s, many agencies moved away from messaging to focus on Photoshop, Flash, and special effects. The new tools easily caught consumer attention. But by the end of the 1990s, it wasn't really enough.

So some agencies pushed harder with guerrilla marketing to generate buzz. But nowadays, buzz is not enough. Consumers want to relate, which is why a simple Wal-Mart ad can boost sales in a down season and give the company 17.3 percent year-to-date gain for 2008.

Listening to consumers isn't about social media. It's about relating to the audience, regardless of the media. It always has been. And only those agencies that remember that will see any hint of success in 2009.

Thursday, December 11

Gambling On Viral: "Whopper Virgins"

Although the Motrin viral marketing campaign is slowly fading from memory, viral advertising is not. There are plenty of companies willing to play the sometimes high stakes game of pushing marketing as opposed to products with the hope it might go viral.

According to Ad Age, Burger King's "Whopper Virgins" video is slowly going viral, but still slower than the fast food chain had hoped (which might explain the recent public relations support). The "Whopper Virgins" concept was to take the Whopper on a world tour, documentary style, where people who have never seen a hamburger could taste a Big Mac and Whopper.

"Whopper Virgins" is the second viral video that Burger King has attempted. The first, "Whopper Freakout", captured reactions from customers visiting a Burger King without Whoppers. It had limited success. The new video is better conceived, but it comes at a different price. Some people are annoyed by it.

Pushed by Burger King super fans — loyalist customers — "Whopper Virgins" is being seeded on various online video sites. The agency also claims teaser videos prompted a successful start, but based on YouTube counts and comments, it doesn't seem likely. While one teaser had 49,000 views, another only had 300. Some random comments left on the former:

"Lame, arrogant commercial - their website is even worse. It's an embarrassment."

"This video is to exploit indigenous people."

"I don't look at this commercial as offensive at all. I'm glad and proud to see that Hmong people are, probably for the very first time, being featured on mainstream TV."

Cathy Erway, writing for The Huffington Post, summed: "But most of all, you get a classic story of American corporate colonialism, sickly masked in that all-too-proud illusion of goodwill." Caitlin Fitzsimmons, writing for the Guardian, wrote: "It's either a fun and original ad or yet another example of the crass exploitation of the world's indigenous people." And Michael Lebowitz said: "I'm not always the biggest fan of Crispin Porter & Bogusky's work, but what they've been doing for Burger King is impressive."

Good, bad, indifferent?

PRWeek suggests that all buzz is perfectly all right given that using controversial ads can help boost a brand. And in many cases, that is the only intent of viral marketing: create some controversy, get some buzz, and hope that translates into "something" later on. If it doesn't work out, you can always say you're sorry.

So what kind of advertising is likely to go viral? As B.L. Ochman, Ad Age, recently offered up (paraphrased):

• Advertising that is funny, shocking, intriguing, or surprising.
• Ideas that customers can relate to and care about.
• A clear-cut message so people are able to pass it on.
• An easy way to pass it on such as link, embedding code, "share this" button, etc.
• A concept that builds relationships with customers by getting them to interact with others.

The caveat is that viral advertising isn't viral until it's passed on by the public. And, of course, not everyone agrees with on what measurable outcomes make for a viral success.

At the end of the day, someone has to ask if "Whopper Virgins" made people want to eat a Whopper (because it certainly didn't convince anyone that the taste test was authentic). Or, someone might even ask who really won — Burger King or Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the agency that produced it? Hmmm...

Is the new objective of marketing to market the marketing by encouraging super fans to push the marketing creative simply with the hope it goes viral based on, er, online views and perhaps start a controversial conversation? Some people seem to think so.

Thursday, July 17

Accounting For Brand: McDonald’s

In Nevada, a large McDonald’s franchisee pleaded guilty to supplying illegal workers with false identification and agreed to pay a $1 million fine.

Surprising to some, the franchise, which was raided last year, is located in Reno, Nev., where illegal immigration tends to be less of a hot button issue than it is eight hours south in Las Vegas.

While the owner of the franchise was not charged, the company's current director of operations, Joe Gillespie, and former vice president, Jimmy Moore, could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The franchise has since promised it will never allow this to happen again.

In a statement, McDonald's Corp. has already said the case "was an isolated incident and not part of any ongoing investigation into McDonald's USA."

The case does, however, mirror another odd story where the manager of a Minn. McDonald’s allegedly turned down a Hispanic applicant after he revealed he was born in St. Paul, Minn. According to the story, the manager said he only hired Mexicans from Mexico.

While McDonald's Corp. handled the issue appropriately from a crisis communication standpoint, its at arms-length handling of franchise owners seems slightly off center of its longstanding brand protectiveness. After all, it was Ray Kroc who once said "the basis for our entire business is that we are ethical, truthful and dependable."

The trend to allow increasing autonomy to franchises began in 1991.


Wednesday, August 8

Driving Brand: McDonald's Corporation

It seems Coca-Cola has some proven company in breaking through the brand clutter. McDonald's, with more than 30,000 local restaurants serving 52 million people in more than 100 countries each day, has struck the neuroscience nerve.

Carrots, milk, and apple juice all taste better to preschoolers, ages 3-5, when they are wrapped in packaging that sports one of the most familiar brands in the world. At least that is what they found in San Mateo County, Calif. when 63 children were given the same foods. The only difference was the wrapper.

The impact is amazing, but it is the age at which this brand embeds itself that is extraordinary (and perhaps a little bit frightening). The research appeared in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine and funded by Stanford and the Robert Wood Foundation and it was picked up by the Associated Press yesterday.

In a prior experiment, the researchers demonstrated that even a single exposure to a television advertisement affected preschool children's brand preferences. This study found that the frequency of eating at McDonald's was not the only influencer. The number of television sets in the household also played a factor.

This doesn’t surprise me. All of us, but children in particular, respond to visual and audio stimulus as if it were real whether we admit it or not. In other words, what we see on television has an equal chance to impact our decisions on a subconscious, if not conscious, level (assuming the writers and producers know what they are doing).

Founder Ray Kroc knew what he was doing. He not only raised the bar on the principles of quick service standardization, but also forever linked the idea (if not the practice) of quality, cleanliness, service, and value to McDonald’s name.

“If you work just for money, you'll never make it, but if you love what you're doing and you always put the customer first, success will be yours.” — Ray Kroc

Although some may argue not all local franchise owners measure up to Kroc’s vision, it doesn’t matter. McDonald's spends more than $1 billion dollars in advertising per year. That’s a whole lot of positive impressions.

Fun fact: Our first regional television script was written for McDonald’s in the early 1990s. It was part of a regional campaign to determine which of the “Arch” burgers would be introduced nationwide. While the “Arch Deluxe” won, the “California Deluxe” beat out Big Macs in some markets. McDonald’s has one of the strictest shot standards in the quick service industry; no one is allowed to actually “eat and chew” food on camera.


Friday, July 27

Ordering Up Ethics: Flogs, Blogs, And Posers

After reading that 279 U.S. chief marketing officers, directors of marketing and marketing managers polled in the PRWeek/Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L) Marketing Management Survey revealed some confusion over ethics, I posted a poll to see if a self-selected group of participants could determine which of eight case scenarios might demonstrate the greatest ethical breach, noting that some were not ethical breaches (but have had some people attach ethical arguments to them).

While the poll was well read, only 22 people participated as of 9 a.m. this morning (before PollDaddy had some challenges). There are several other accounts for low participation, including: ethics cannot really be measured in terms of “greatest;” not everyone was familiar with the various cases; and people are generally confused and/or don’t care about ethics anyway. All valid points.

Fortunately for me, a few people opted in because I promised to make no claims that this is a scientific survey, but rather a discussion opener for today (and an opportunity to try PollDaddy). So here’s our take on eight...

(Poll 23%) John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc., anonymously posted disparaging remarks about Wild Oats, a company that Whole Foods is now hoping to acquire. We considered placing this in a secondary position, until Vera Bass offered the following on BlogCatalog: “… I believe that breach of the more specifically defined duties (especially fiduciary duty) and obligations that are developed and maintained by those who carry more responsibility for others than most people do, is, by this definition, a greater breach.” Clearly, this is an ethical breach; and we’ll be adding something to our case study next week.

(Poll 18%) Julie Roehm accepting gifts from advertising agencies while they were seeking the coveted Wal-Mart account. While there are allegedly other ethical breaches related to this case study, we limited the poll to a single breach because it’s enough. While some argue wooing guests is an industry norm, the truth is Roehm knowingly violated her company’s policy and has been spinning ever since. While the initial action was bad enough, her defense of it continues to damage an increasing number of people.

(Poll 36%) Edelman Public Relations Worldwide published a fake blog (flog) last year for Wal-Mart (there were three actually). What makes this scenario stand out is that it was premeditated by people who knew better. The real irony is that Wal-Mart could have avoided the breach with disclosure. Perhaps more ironic, no matter how you feel about Wal-Mart, it has enough good news not to need fake news. We placed it third, but only because no one seems to have been hurt.

None of the other five are ethical breaches. At least, not to date.

(Poll 14%) While the Cartoon Network bomb scare illustrates a worst case scenario for a guerilla marketing campaign to go wrong and clearly impacted Boston (closing roads, tunnels, and bridges for hours), it is not an ethical breach. While ill-advised and perhaps not well thought out, it really wasn’t about ethics. In truth, Turner Broadcasting Systems acted very quickly and accepted all responsibility. The guerilla marketing firm that oversaw the campaign, on the other hand, was much slower to respond.

The (Poll 0%) Microsoft’s laptop giveaway, (Poll 5%) Nikon camera outreach program, and the (Poll 5%) McDonald’s mommy bloggers have all been questioned and talked about by bloggers. While all of them have the potential for an ethical breach, none of them did (that we are aware). As long as bloggers disclose the gift, loan, etc. and do not allow these items to bias their opinions and/or encourage/obligate them to make false claims, then no ethical breach can occur.

The last scenario, where Jobster sent Jason Davis a cease a desist letter, claiming Davis had violated a non-compete clause for launching a social network called, was not an ethical question. While the method was not prudent, there was no ethical breach. The two have since reached an amicable agreement.

So why do we care about ethics? To take from the preface of the International Association of Business Communicators’ code of ethics, because: “hundreds of thousands of business communicators worldwide engage in activities that affect the lives of millions of people, and because this power carries with it significant social responsibilities.”

However, as mentioned, this responsibility is two-fold. I believe that we must be cautious in applying ethics so broadly as it continuously raises doubt in or damages the reputation of people, regardless of rank or position, who have not breached ethics. As is often the case, asking the wrong questions — “Is it ethical to ask for comments on a client’s blog?” — can create more confusion than clarity.

As the best measure of our ethics, we must not only be honest with others but also, and most importantly, with ourselves. If you are ever in doubt, the simplest ethical self-test is to ask yourself one of two questions ...

“Would I be proud to tell my grandmother?” or (depending on who your grandmother was) “Would I be proud to see a story about what I am doing on the front page of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal?” If you can answer “yes” to either, you’re likely in good shape. Case in point, I think Mackey would have answered "no."


Tuesday, July 24

Protecting Consumers: King County

Some people misunderstood me when I suggested local governments might have better things to do than require quick service restaurants like Burger King, McDonald's, and Wendy's to post calorie counts on their menu boards.

The King County Board of Health can be counted among them. Although the New York City case hasn’t had its day in court, new labeling requirements in King County, Washington, now call for all chain restaurants, those with at least 10 branches nationwide, to list calories, saturated fat, carbohydrates, and sodium in each regular food item they serve.

"The Board of Health is responsible for passing laws to protect the health of the public, and to promote healthy behaviors that improve health and prevent illness," Board of Health Chairwoman Julia Patterson said. "There is no better example of our commitment to residents' health than the legislation passed today that protects us from dangerous trans fats and promotes consumer education and informed choices by labeling menus."

May I offer another suggestion? Do what they do in the United Kingdom (as illustrated above) and force these restaurants to say what you mean: “eating large quantities of food may lead to obesity.”

Before you think I am only being sarcastic, CPSI and Public Citizen say almost exactly that in the subhead of their release, which touts who has joined them in “support of rule to combat obesity epidemic,” after they filed a friend of the court brief in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York supporting New York City’s Board of Health against a lawsuit filed in June by the New York State Restaurant Association.

“The stakes in this lawsuit are high,” said Deepak Gupta, a lawyer at Public Citizen who wrote the brief, according to the release. “A victory for New York City’s law could help clear the way for similar laws throughout the country.”

But will it really solve the so-called obesity epidemic? As James Vesely points out in his humorous (or maybe tragic) column in the Seattle Times, “Yoder, whose place is popular with knowledgeable diners and serves as many calories as the next guy, is exempt from the calorie count on his menus — it depends on how many eateries you operate. So Anthony'sHomePort is not exempt, but along Shilshole's watering spots, Ray's Boathouse next door is exempt. Same calories, different menus. A menu at Denny's will be draped with calorie numbers; the one at Metropolitan Grill will not.”

Vesely then says that the new, calorie-clad menus are not going to be popular, or particularly useful. I agree. Despite all the money spent on lawsuits (money that could be applied to consumer education about a healthy diet), consumers are likely to tune them out.

Sometimes we tune them out for good reason (besides the occasional chuckle): Sainsbury’s peanuts warns us that they contain nuts; an American Sears hairdryer warns us it is not to be used while sleeping; and, one of my personal favorites, found on a blanket: not to be used as protection from a tornado.

So please forgive me if I do not feel any safer knowing that 20 states, cities, and counties are considering legislation or regulations that would require fast food and other chain restaurants to provide calories and other nutrition information on menus and menu boards.

The most obvious truth is, when you get past all the spin on an issue like this, the snack, cookie, and soda aisles at our local grocery stores take up the most space for a reason. They're yummy.


Friday, July 20

Revealing Ethical Realities: PRWeek/MS&L

Some public relations professionals and communicators scratched their heads because I didn't call for the resignation of John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc. despite the obvious: what he did was wrong. Perhaps part of the answer can be found in the PRWeek/Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L) Marketing Management Survey.

The survey polled 279 U.S. chief marketing officers, directors of marketing and marketing managers that are focused on consumer-generated media, integrated marketing, and industry ethics. Although some of the questions were somewhat phrased oddly (they are paraphrased here), some of the results might surprise you.

• Wal-Mart’s non-disclosure of its authorship of a blog was a breach in marketing ethics. 55 percent agreed.
• Julie Roehm’s acceptance of gifts and dinners from future advertising agencies was unethical. 46 percent agreed.
• Turner Broadcasting placing magnetic lights in Boston that resembled bombs was a breach. 41 percent agreed.
• Microsoft acted unethically in providing Windows Vista on laptops to technology bloggers. 32 percent agreed.

Clearly, there seems to be some confusion over ethics. Originally, I was going to write something about this, but then decided it might be fun to run a poll to see what some readers think first. Which of the following do you think constitutes the greatest breach of ethics? You can vote for only one (and some might not be ethical breaches); we'll share our take on it next week (after the poll closes).

Incidentally, the MS&L survey also revealed that 17 percent of senior marketers say their organizations have bought advertising in return for a news story; 7 percent said their organizations have an implicit/non-verbal agreement with a reporter or editor to see favorable coverage; and 5 percent of marketers said their companies had paid or provided a gift of value to an editor or producer in exchange for a news story about their company or its products.

So much for the notion that all journalists are somehow pre-equipped to make the right ethical decisions. As I have said before, ethics begins with the person and not the profession. Bloggers have an equal opportunity to be ethical and to suggest they cannot, as some people do, only indicates their own propensity to have an ethical lapse.


Monday, July 2

Supersizing Wingnuts: Ronald McDonald

By now, you might have heard that McDonald's hired six "quality correspondent" mommy bloggers to report on the "world at large" about various McDonald's facilities. And, no surprise, for every friendly blogger found, an equal number of contrary bloggers will magically appear. (Or maybe it's the other way around, I forget.)

It's nothing new. Ever since marketing genius Ray Kroc made a deal with the McDonald brothers in 1954, America has had an odd love-hate relationship with Ronald, or least the product he sells.

On one hand, McDonald's is a great American rag-to-riches story of a businessman who created an American icon and believed in hard work, wholesome idealism, and selfless philanthropy. On the other hand, critics say Kroc cut the McDonald brothers out, exploited teenagers, despoiled the environment, hardened our arteries, and made us fat.

Even Greenpeace showed its split decision back in 2003: "We don't like a lot of what it [McDonald's] does and what it stands for but we have to take a deep breath here, and give them some credit where it is due. They've done something [environmentally friendly refrigeration] to help the planet!"

So what's the truth?

Given the recent New York City quick service regulation story, it points to a cultural trend being blamed on social media even though it didn't originate with social media. The trend is the polarization of, well, everything.

Polarization is a tendency to promote every issue as black and white; for or against; right and wrong. It considers consensus waffling at best and knuckling under at worst. It originated with traditional media, often dominates politics, and has been slowly and steadily creeping its way into almost anything we do.

The irony is most polarized issues, whether it is a big issue like global warming or a little issue like McDonald's, are a battle of wills. Usually, it means wingnuts (people with extreme views) have hijacked an issue in the hope that they can appeal to your emotions while you surrender your ability to reason.

To briefly understand wingnut influences, imagine a bell curve. They are the 10 percent on either side, with the rest of us being in the middle. If the wingnuts succeed in moving the middle just a little bit, they can change the direction of Congress. Sometimes, however, the bell curve gets pressed down in the middle (making it look like an M) or, in extreme cases, the middle is almost obliterated (making it look like a U).

Thus, in the case of McDonald's, anti-McDonald's wingnuts have gained some ground using social media as a mechanism. To help offset this, McDonald's did what bloggers have been asking every company to do: pay more attention to bloggers. So they invited a few seemingly pro-McDonald's mommies to take a peek inside and blog about it.

Well, anti-McDonald's wingnuts can't have this, so they want to discredit the mommy bloggers before they write a single word. Really, it's not all that different from the Nikon blogger outreach program (except these mommy bloggers, I am told, are really on the payroll) and as long as they disclose, who really cares?

The simple truth about McDonald's is that like any indulgence, excess is bad (and we didn't need some fool who ate only McDonald's for a month to prove it); the existence of McDonald's does not make you fat (only eating excess quantities of, well, anything will make you fat); and mommy bloggers are not unethical if they disclose, even if they say something silly like it's part of a balanced meal (assuming they buy that). Of course, if they write that, all it means is that they will diminish their own credibility.

You know, I'm starting to believe that America's appetite for convenience is not fueling McDonald's as much as it fueling polarization in America. It's convenient to have only two choices. It's convenient to discredit bloggers as having no influence until they write something we don't like. And, it's very, very convenient to blame other people for our own inability to control what we say, do, or eat.


Friday, June 29

Guessing Intentions: Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's

As reported by the Associated Press, Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's are all balking at New York City's new rule that will require them to post calories on menus. Taco Bell and KFC won't talk.

"They are afraid that when people see these eye-popping calorie numbers, they might switch to a smaller size," Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a health advocacy group, told the AP. "They feel it is going to hurt sales."

Jacobson's answer likely comes from a question I usually advise our clients not to play along with. While the wording might be off, it's a good guess the AP reporter asked "Why do you think Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's are afraid to post the calories?"

Speculation can be a dangerous game, even if you are an advocate of the new rule that covers some 2,000 New York City eateries. More likely, the only reason three chains are taking a harder stand is because the New York State Restaurant Association challenged the rule in court, the city said it won't fine anyone until October, and the "calorie counts" are required to be the same size as the price.

While this story appeared on SpinThicket as a PR Nightmare, I'm wondering if it isn't just good old-fashioned spin and not on the part of the quick service industry (that's the PC term for fast food. Ha!).

True, quick service is not the most nutritional choice for lunch (neither is what most of our children are served for school lunch). But also true is that, sometimes, elected officials overreach in creating regulations that are meant to "protect us from ourselves" because, frankly, it looks bad to serve a term in office without making something up. I think this might apply.

What New York City has going for it is perception: hamburgers are somehow evil. What it has going against it is reality: adults don't need to feel guilty about their choices.

Besides, most of this information is available anyway. As Denny Lynch, spokesman for Wendy's, told the AP, Wendy's has made this information available for 30 years. Indeed, it's been a unique selling point on more than one occasion.

Hmmm ... sometimes business has a tendency to set industry standards without an assist from government. So if Subway, KFC, and Wendy's haven't been able to cut into competitor sales on the selling point they have lower calorie choices by now, then I doubt very much city government regulations will either.


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