The Benefits of Reality

McDonald’s has often had a pretty big target on its back. Maybe that’s the price you pay for holding on to the number 0ne spot in a category for so long — we love to take down the leader.  And that leader has had to fend off some giant rumors,  from earthworm hamburger stories in the 1970’s to the “chemical-laden-hamburgers-that-never-rot” rumors of today.

Now, I’m not a McDonald’s apologist by any stretch. But I am very interested in how they’re handling the aforementioned rumors and legends through their communications efforts. Check out these links for McDonald’s in Canada.

They’re doing an amazing job of using negativity to their advantage. They’ve discovered that negativity in today’s “wild west” of marketing and communications is an open invitation to tell a positive story and have meaningful, game-changing conversations. McDonald’s discovered early on that if you ignore negativity, hoping it will just fade away,  you will always lose. Especially in today’s rumor-loving, shock-based, social world.

The McDonald’s “Our Food. Your Questions.” campaign is a fantastic example of how to use the social world to get real with your audience, how to use doubt to build trust, and how to prove to the outside world that you’re actually human.

Here are a couple of sustainability communication points that we preach all that time – and that are quickly becoming principles of any good corporate communications strategy:

1. Be real. Don’t be afraid to open the kimono even if you haven’t been hitting the gym as much as you should. Consumers are shockingly forgiving about your sustainability efforts if they know you’re actually trying to be better.

2. Playing possum doesn’t work in 2012. You can’t avoid or ignore the online social world. Your company’s sustainability initiatives (or lack thereof) are already out there being vetted and talked about by 20-year old caffeine addicts with ten-thousand followers whether you like it or not .

When you present yourself in a human way, scars and all, you’ll win the respect of the majority while putting detractors on their heels. User-generated negativity can be a true catalyst for positive communication.

About the Author

Larry Washington

Larry Washington is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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