Recently, we saw a video called "Where McDonald's Canada gets our hamburger patties from" put out by McDonald's - that culinary empire synonymous with smiles and happy meals. The video was part of a massive ad campaign (confirmed by a suite of tv commercials and even a monopoly advertising presence at a number of subway stations on my local public transit) called "Our Food, Your Questions." You can find more about that here: http://yourquestions.mcdonalds.ca/

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This revolutionary approach by McDonald's comes after recent (and often heavy) scorn heaped upon it by documentaries like Super Size Me or Fast Food Nation and the social media firestorm over "pink slime" or "The Happy Meal Project," among other negative exposures. But the cause of this effort is beside the point, because we think that McDonald's latest campaign actually represents another "point of light" on the horizon for two key reasons:

  1. It shows that what customers and employees increasingly demand from companies not just a simple regard for their well-being, but revolutionary (in the business world, at least) positive characteristics like transparency and authenticity. These are not new desires on the part of customers and employees, but...
  2. Whether by necessity or by choice, companies are actually starting to listen and to act according to those demands for positive characteristics with new urgency.

This may be a historic turn of the tide.

Companies are now beginning to recognize that they can no longer define their brand from the inside, as was possible for McDonald's back in the 1970's and 80's. Then, the Happy Meal, for example, brilliant marketing idea that it was, could be packaged, advertised and sold to the public with such success that it actually allowed McDonald's to stamp its entire franchise with a "persona" to match the illustrious meal - happy, caring, kid-and-family friendly. And for a generation, that's largely how the company was known. Record profits and worldwide expansion ensued. Better than a tasty hamburger and fries, the company had happened on a marketing and advertising recipe for the ages! Until the early 2000's, the advertising brand-builders were able to maintain the cherished brand with great success.

But today, most of North America has peeked behind the counter at McDonald's, and are not too pleased with what they see - meals that don't decompose like food should, contribute to childhood obesity, raise cholesterol levels astronomically, chemically treated meats and “food products” instead of just plain old food. And slowly, the public has revoked the happy, caring, kid-and-family friendly brand that McDonald's had maintained for decades.

"It's false, it's not authentic, and it's just not healthy,” the public said, almost in unison, “so I'm going to quit going there - and I probably should make sure my friends know the truth as well." In effect, McDonald's has become one of the first major examples of the importance of the socially licensed brand. This new reality signals frightful times in uncharted waters, even for successful global companies with one of the world's most recognizable brands like McDonald's  - unless, of course, branding evolution happens in creative and often counter-intuitive ways. Evolution, like, for example, the organizational soul-searching and work that McDonald’s transparency campaign suggests may have begun to take place within that company. This is perhaps the only way it can begin the journey to win back approval, one which will encompass company culture, branding, product lines and development, corporate tactics, and beyond.

Today, it is not just a good product or service that the public demands, it's a good company that acts Authentically and with Purpose. Once the public sees evidence of this from a company, IF they like the product and the company's actions, then the social license and loyalty (and later, purchasing dollars) may be granted. If they are, the brand will be positively re-shaped. Until then, the judgment has been made.

In the case of McDonald’s, it will be interesting to see what unfolds, but it certainly suggests that a 'new norm' is descending on the world of business...

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