Saturday, October 16, 2010

McDonald's: Happy Meal Resists Decomposition

Singapore. (16 Oct 2010).

YahooNews carried the report by The Upshot on New York City-based artist and photographer Sally Davies' latest project. In the project, Davies left a McDonald's Happy Mean out in her kitchen to see how well it would hold up over time. According to Davies, after 6 months, “the only change that I can see is that it has become hard as a rock.”

In response to Davies’ project, McDonald’s responded by issuing a statement defending the quality of the chain’s food and dismissing Davies’ work as something out of “the realm of urban legends.” McDonald's then went on to reiterate that (a) McDonald’s hamburger patties in the United States are made with 100% USDA-inspected ground beef; (b) are cooked and prepared with salt, pepper and nothing else — no preservatives, no fillers; and (c) our hamburger buns are baked locally, are made from North American-grown wheat flour and include common government-approved ingredients designed to assure food quality and safety.

I have three observations on McDonald's crisis communication approach to this incident:

a. My assessment is that McDonald's PR Department is unable to assess if this incident will become a crisis and they have hence decided to adopt a scaled response (read my earlier post).

b. From a crisis communication perspective, McDonald's crisis communication approach is to frame the incident as an "urban legend" and then reassure stakeholders that McDonald's abides with all legal requirements on food safety. As I mentioned in my earlier posting on the Brad Lau saga on the importance of Tone, McDonald's muted response to an attack on its quality of food is (in my opinion) an indirect admission of guilt. If they could prove conclusively that Davies was wrong, they would have denied it outright and probably threaten her with legal action.

c. McDonald's has adopted the correct approach of not lying in their response. This is extremely important as any outright lie, if caught, may significantly damage the company's brand image beyond repair.

Let's continue to monitor this incident to what happens. My assessment is that this is likely to blow over and McDonald's scaled response would have enabled them to get ahead of this incident.

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