Brand Transparency and Building Trust: McDonald's Q&A Microsite

McDonald’s has skeptics and they know it.

The solution?  A marketing campaign microsite to address burning questions from customers and critics alike.  Questions about what the food is made of.  Questions about urban legends like pink slime and what “100% beef” really means.  Questions posed by real people, and answered by McDonald’s one by one.

One inquiry in particular caught the attention of several sites including Ad Age.  It’s the one that flashes through your mind as you bite into the wilted, sloppy burger in front of you: Why does the food look so different in advertising than it does in real life? 

The VP of Marketing of McDonald’s Canada tackles this one by taking viewers behind-the-scenes to explain the process of food styling and all the primping that goes into making a Big Mac look so good.

This campaign is a smart way for McDonald’s to show that they have nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of.  The brand made a conscious decision to post unflattering questions too – given the existing level of skepticism, blatant filtering would have reinforced the idea that corporate giants try to control conversations with propaganda. 

As for the answers?  Most were satisfying albeit a bit vague.  For a high-profile campaign like this, it’s understandable that the responses were crafted from a pre-defined set of core brand messages.  Even “normal” product launches require brand managers to define positioning and prioritize messaging – what’s the main idea you want the customer to get?  The only downside is that a few answers seemed like they had been reviewed by layers of execs and PR strategists to reach the optimal amount of information without saying anything incriminating.

Still, the campaign is a great example of marketing that fully utilizes and resonates with the digital medium.  The design of the microsite is reminiscent of Pinterest’s pinboard.  The endless scrolling reflects popular blog formats to make users feel at home.  The photo tiles of the person asking the question add a human touch.  The questions are short phrases that can be directly shared to social media.  And the site makes you “follow” not-yet-answered questions through Facebook or Twitter, increasing the reach and engagement of the campaign.

McDonald’s is a juggernaut in terms of presence and scale.  They have 33,000 restaurants in 119 countries around the world.  As a company, the decisions they make probably have more potential to change the status quo than that of thousands of niche eateries combined.  So why does this matter?  Because good marketing is important, but only if it derives from an even better product and dedication to doing business with integrity.  Only then will McDonald’s gain – and be deserving of – customer trust.

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Photo credit: McDonald’s Canada website