For those of you who don’t live in Canada, you are missing the tail end of an aggressive advertising campaign called “Our Food. Your Questions” in which McDonald’s takes questions from the general public, and answers them. It’s an attempt by McDonald’s to make their massive corporation seem transparent, authentic, and totally honest. After a summer of gathering questions from Canadians and answering them on their website, they rolled out an ad campaign in September that included television spots, transit ads, video answers to the questions, posters, and whatever digital takeovers are. For those who are curious, transit ads and putting up posters are known as ‘transit domination’ and ‘wild posting’ in the biz.
Now, there really isn’t a way for a gigantic corporation to be completely transparent, and advertising is by nature biased, but this is a nice try by McDonald’s. The site is nicely laid out and easy to use, and they’ve let in enough urban myths (is there beef in your fries?) to almost make you feel sorry for their reputation. Let me say now that I am not a frequenter of McDonald’s. I was raised by hippies eating out of the garden, and fast food frightens and confuses me. It turns out, however, that this campaign is not aimed at me. A representative of the campaign was on Day 6, a CBC news program to let us know that this program is aimed at the “fence-sitters.” Apparently McDonald’s, like Mitt Romney, has despaired of reaching a certain segment of the population. This is a campaign to make the casual McDonald’s consumer feel better about their choices. But maybe there is something for me, as one of the “haters,” to learn anyways.
So, I reviewed some of the many questions.
One that I have heard often, and which occasionally haunts my dreams, is that McDonald’s food does not rot. According to the answer on the website, this is because McDonald’s burgers have a very low moisture content. That does not explain why the bread in my house is green and terrifying within a week, but it is somewhat comforting. Whether their beef is actually beef comes up more than once on the website, which seems like a reflection of both the paranoia people have about McDonald’s sourcing and additives, and the company’s keenness to talk about certain issues. They use 100% beef, by the way. The questions range from the straightforward like “Why do you use MSG?” (they don’t), and “Do you put sugar in your happy meals?” (they don’t put extra sugar into menu items that don’t already include sugar) to the confusing and hostile: “Is there an anti-vomit in the McDonald food? “why do you keep saying there isn’t milk and beef broth in your fries?” (answer pending).
I’m going to be honest with you all. I was kind of warming up to McDonald’s with this campaign. I was a hater begrudingly giving them my respect. The answers are short and direct, and the questions make me think that this company takes a lot of flak from the public. Then I went to their nutrition calculator to get the rest of the story and I learned that a lunch of a Big Xtra Hamburger, medium French fries, and a medium Fruitopia drink contains 1,110 calories (roughly half of the average daily caloric requirement of a person), seventy percent of your daily allowance of fat, and 40% of you sodium intake for the day. But hey, that’s a burger and fries. Let’s try a salad with grilled chicken (instead of crunchy deep fried chicken), and a small iced tea. I think we all know this is not a likely thing to order if you are in McDonald’s, but say that you did. It would be more than 700 calories, 48% of your daily sodium intake, and 71% of your daily intake of fat. Seven hundred calories are not the end of the world, to be sure, but that’s a pretty hefty number for a meal that requires a fair amount of restraint.
McDonald’s wants consumers to feel better about eating in their restaurants through this campaign, but the program misses a crucial point. In the end, the problem with McDonald’s isn’t that their burgers creepily somehow never rot. The problem is that they promote unhealthy food to the detriment of anyone who eats too much of it. I’d ask them whether they planned on changing that, but someone already did. Apparently, they are about “quality and familiarity,” and not about health. Good thing we cleared that up.