How tacky can the golden arches get?
McDonald’s is scrambling, and I’m not talking about eggs. You know your business has what image consultants call “quality perception issues” when you have to launch a PR initiative that publicly addresses such questions as: “Does McDonald’s beef contain worms?”
Thornier yet for the world’s largest burger machine is its boneheaded response to the remarkable, ongoing rebellion by fast-food workers, who’re demanding a $15-an-hour wage and the freedom to unionize without corporate retaliation. The overpaid and clueless executives at McDonald’s responded by – guess what? – retaliating against hundreds of the employees who joined the protests. Big Mac managers illegally reduced the hours (and therefore the pay) of those who joined the “Fight For 15” campaign, spied on them, interrogated and threatened them, and imposed restrictions on their freedom even to talk about unions or working conditions.
The corporation now faces federal charges on hundreds of labor law violations – as well as rising customer anger over its ham-handed tactics. Naturally, McDonald’s responded by apologizing and raising worker’s wages.
Ha! Just kidding. Instead, it’s running a new series of TV ads that, astonishingly, tries to tap into people’s emotions about such tragic events as 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing, as well as linking its logo to people’s positive feelings about veterans, birthdays and even “love.” McD’s corporate marketing director explains that the ads are all about the golden arches shining bright in every community, being with us through the good and the bad. As she puts it, “Who better to stand up for lovin’ than McDonald’s?”
What a joke. For over a decade the burger behemoth has pushed its product with an advertising slogan that exuberantly proclaims, “I’m Lovin’ It.”
But it turns out that putting words of praise in customers’ mouths doesn’t sell more burgers – in fact, customers have been putting fewer Big Macs, Chicken McNuggets and other McEdibles in their mouths, causing sales to sag. This decline in affection has to do with the corporation’s boring burger, unappetizing news reports that some of its suppliers have been repackaging expired meat, its corporate-wide policy of paying poverty wages, its ruthless anti-union tactics and its cynical strategy of having tax payers subsidize its labor costs by directing employees to go on food stamps and Medicaid.
Not to worry, though, for new CEO Don Thompson (the second replacement in the top slot in only two years) is all over these boo-boos. Is he offering real improvements in quality, wages and benefits, and corporate attitude?
Come on – get serious! This is McDonalds, and its investors and bankers don’t fritter away profit-taking on real solutions. Instead, Don is doubling down on that McLovin’ feeling. McD’s new ad campaign is specifically designed to link the corporate brand to the healing power of love. The ads show Batman and the Joker breaking bread together over a Happy Meal, a mailman and a dog finding peace under the golden arches, and – how’s this for seriously clever? – a blue donkey and a red elephant sharing common ground at a McDonald’s formica table. Each ad closes with the lovely thought that you, I and everyone everywhere should “Choose Lovin’.”
Get it? Choose McDonald’s, for it’s the source of love and you’ll truly be “Lovin’ It.” Not for nothing is CEO Thompson, who is paid $9.5 million a year, plus full health coverage, a platinum pension and private use of the corporate jet. Where else but America can you be so enriched for preaching Lovin’ while directing your corporate lobbyists to kill any increase in the poverty wages of your employees?
Just ask protesting workers about the “love” they’re getting from McDonald’s. Oh, to be fair, the bosses did make one change for workers – new uniforms, supposedly to buff-up the corporation’s public image. That’s not just boneheaded, it’s pathetic! I forgot to mention that most of these low-wage employees were forced to buy the uniforms themselves. How’s that for McLove?
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.