Over recent weeks, the restaurant has made pledges to offer more grassroots sporting activity and support British agriculture in a sign of its corporate responsibilities.
It has also played the diversity and equality card in France, with the airing of its first ever “gay ad”.
Yet, it is questionable as to just how well these savvy marketing moves are playing in the fast food chain’s attempts to rebuild its image as a more healthy and responsible business.
Kristy Richards, a brand expert at Added Value, says the moves are welcome, but cautions that “none of this will completely shake off the US heritage in consumer eyes, but it helps.”
She says the the brand’s efforts to theme its London 2012 marketing around British farmers is a clever strategy, “but it could actually raise the question among consumers about where the beef came from before if it wasn’t home grown… these are not significant enough to really shift their CSR values in the eyes of the consumer.”
This seems to be the problem with McDonald’s marketing efforts. It appears to be focusing on boosting its credibility in business, but faces more risk of simply washing over the consumer, or become the topic of much debate in the digital world.
Earlier this month McDonald’s launched its first TV advertising campaign targeting gay men. The campaign for the fast food giant was aired in France and featured a young gay man in a McDonald’s restaurant with his father – who is unaware of his son’s sexuality.
Yet, rather than emphasise its efforts in portraying itself as a brand open to diversification, it faced huge criticism for being insensitive and out-of-touch with society.
The restaurant should go back to concentrating on its food, argue experts.
Sally Mathie, director, Sundance London, says: “The brand should focus on the more positive and nutritional “foody” values to hold potential to offer a good catalyst to prompt consumer re-appraisal of McDonald’s, while also creating more consumer openness to their messages – rather than yet another claim amongst the many made by many brands.”
Bert Moore, chief strategy officer at Lowe, puts it rather more bluntly. “Let’s not mince words. Fast food makes kids fat. What on earth are McDonald’s doing [with the non-health oriented ads]? Shouldn’t McDonald’s be doing everything possible to help kids acquire healthier habits? It’s a bit tactless.”
Yet for McDonald’s, it makes more sense for it to portray an image that represents both its “cuisine” and its “external efforts”.
McDonald’s UK chief executive, Steve Easterbrook, says: “It wouldn’t be right for us to simply portray ourselves as a burger chain. We recognise our role as a major global establishment, and we feel it is our duty to highlight the processes involved in producing our food, offering options for all people in all cultures and associating ourselves with sporting legacies.”
“For us, these brand extensions are crucial It means that we are have brand equity in every part of our business. We also have the strength to make a positive difference, which is a major cause for pride both internally and externally in our businesses. Of course, there will always be doubters. But fundamentally, it’s about being able to offer all our customers a positive reason to associate with our brand.”
Experts condone this approach. Fred Burt, managing director of Siegel & Gale, says: “They’re demonstrating a level of transparency that, from one of the watchwords in processed foods, is likely to make the consumer sit up and re-evaluate the brand.”
Gary Moss, chairman of Brand Vista adds: “McDonald’s are being real. They know there is an ever growing spotlight on production methods and sourcing and they also know that they can’t suddenly shed their ’junk fast food’ image with a few fancy ads and some clever PR. They need real change and if this initiative is genuinely real and their processes and attitude also shift in alignment to their claims it will help them on what appears to be a long positioning journey.”
McDonald’s Europe recently renewed its deal to be official restaurant partner for the Uefa Euro tournaments in 2012 and 2016. Under the agreement, McDonald’s will operate restaurants in the Fan Zones and at each stadia, providing “great quality food to customers and football fans, while the company’s branding will feature on perimeter boards across all matches, consumer ticket promotions, internet and broadcast platforms.”
The company has pledged to maintain its grassroots programmes and use marketing campaigns to do the same.
While this is welcome. the brand still needs to think more about its marketing approach, says Maurice Van De Ven, creative director at the Chase.
“Perhaps McDonald’s should address the balance of products on offer in its restaurants before it associates itself with the image of health and great achievement in sport. McDonald’s is about hamburgers and fries, a fast food culture that is often associated with obesity, heart disease, hypertension and a whole slew of other problems. Perhaps the brand would be better off keeping its attention focused on how it aims to reduce pollution from flatulent livestock, its humane treatment of animals policy and how customers can avoid health problems by enjoying a balanced diet,” he says.
Laura Haynes, chairman at Appetite, adds: “If this association is supposed to help celebrate “the great diversity and quality of British food on offer” as Lord Coe suggests, then I worry about the quality and diversity of our national cuisine.”
It seems McDonalds still has some work to do before the negative effects of projects such as the Supersize Me film are truly regarded as a thing of the past.