Last month McDonald’s was under fire for advertising to children. Campaign group Corporate Accountability International wrote an open letter signed by 550 health professionals urging the fast food restaurant to retire its brand icon, Ronald McDonald, in the interest of health on the eve of the company’s annual shareholder meeting. The company was previously under fire for including toys in their Happy Meals and has been accused of “refusing to address the dangerous toll that fast food and predatory marketing is taking on kids” and contributing to the rise of obesity and health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.
Around the same time, it also released reports saying that it will start making the effort to switch to cage-free eggs. For World Ocean’s Day they announced that they will start introducing sustainable fish in Europe in partnership with the Marine Stewardship Council. They also made a commitment to use certified sustainable palm oil.
On June 14th the company launched its latest CSR PR campaign with a 60 second TV spot showing in the UK.
The advertisement is an “A-Z” of the company and celebrates a number of different positive attributes of McDonald’s, one for each letter of the alphabet. The messages are illustrated by parents, children and farmers. It is indeed surprising that McDonald’s seems to keenly enthusiastic about their CSR. There has been a distinct difference in their approach to CSR these days even in comparison to five years ago. So what has changed?
Last year Aman Singh highlighted the ways in which McDonald’s CSR strategy has evolved through the years. It is by now, rather obvious that the company will always continue to court controversy. Just like any other fast food chain, McDonald’s will have its share of CSR battles. In many ways, I believe Morgan Spurlock’s movie Supersize Me was the turning point for McDonald’s in terms of shedding its ‘junk food’ image. In the recent years it has been campaigning very hard especially in Asia to shed that tag. In India, in particular, it is trying to underscore the nutritional benefits of its fare. Globally, McDonald’s has also launched a low-fat health menu.
As the appeal of fast food is slowly dying out in the West, many companies are making huge efforts to get a strong-foothold in the Eastern countries with China and India as their main targets. It is true that in addition to their supply chain they have also been investing heavily in green buildings, have made the effort to switch to Fairtrade coffee and many such initiatives.
Now with the new TV advert to highlight their CSR efforts, McDonald’s is making it clear that is committed towards a more sustainable future. It definitely does make business sense for them to change. The sheer vastness of their supply chain and operations means that any effort that they do make could have largely positive repercussions. However one is left wondering about the sincerity about their CSR initiatives especially because of all the mixed messages they are sending out.