Why McDonald’s has the Biggest Social Media Cojones Ever

by Marcus Sheridan

For months now I’ve been preaching on any stage I could find the reality that there “ain’t no such thing as secret sauce” for businesses.

Unfortunately, most companies still aren’t “getting it,” but that’s certainly not the case for  the famous golden arches. Yep, McDonald’s (of Canada) has now become one of the most transparent social media companies ever with their “Our food. Your Questions” program, which is easily one of the gutsiest things I’ve seen a company do in social media in quite some time. To see what I’m talking about, take a look at the following screenshot from their website:

The consumer question…

The answer….with a VIDEO explanation!!!

Well looky here– Ronald McDonald himself even acknowledges he doesn’t have secret sauce. Even better though, he goes on to show, via VIDEO, how to make the “secret sauce” at home.

Wow.

But that’s just the beginning. Another subject I’ve stressed here on TSL deals with the fact that transparent marketing doesn’t just address the “good” stuff people say about your products/services, but the bad stuff too.

For example, have you ever heard someone say McDonald’s burgers don’t rot? No doubt, it would make for a great question on “Mythbusters” but again, the folks at McD’s have tackled the “problem” head-on.

The question…

Not only is this answer thorough, but McD’s bring out the guy in the white suite to answer it!

I could literally post screen-shots all day of how McD’s is tackling these consumer questions, but I’m sure you get my point.

The bottom line is we live in an age of marketing where we can bury our head in the sand and act like consumers and customers don’t have questions, doubts, and concerns about our products…or we can have the guts to not only acknowledge these questions, but embrace them as well.

So props to the folks at McDonald’s Canada for having the cajones to be real.

Props to them for being forward-thinking enough to be an open forum for the rest of the world.

And props to any other company that has the guts to follow their lead.

Your Turn:

Despite the information age in which we are all now a part of, most companies take the opposite approach of McDonald’s and bury their head in the sand. Why do you think this is? And what’s your impression of McD’s willingness to not only publicly answer these questions, but use video as a teaching tool as well?

Jump in folks, let your voice be heard.

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Ralph Quintero August 7, 2012 at

I think this is brilliant on the part of McDonalds. I think that brands need to connect to their fans and tribes authentically. Its the only true way to develop a real “social” relationship. Just like in real life, people gravitate towards people who are authentic, not fakes!

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Marcus Sheridan August 7, 2012 at

Agreed Ralph.Brilliant. Just another reason why they crush the competition year after year after year.

Thanks for dropping in man,

Marcus

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Ross Densley August 7, 2012 at

Hi Marcus – it absolutely surprises me that other companies don’t do this. McDonald’s know that they get bad press (some undoubtedly unwarranted) so by being authentic and transparent those potential naysayers simply don’t have a leg to stand on – certainly on myths and hearsay. Aaron Lee wrote a blog (http://bit.ly/MjXdwv) about a video McDonald’s made to explain why their burgers don’t always look like the burgers in ads. It’s definitely a good tactic for brands to employ.

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Marcus Sheridan August 7, 2012 at

That’s the thing Ross. You get it. I get it. Stinking McD’s gets it…..

Yet so many shake at the idea of this type of transparency.

Oh well ;-)

Good seeing you man,

Marcus

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Paul Onwueme August 8, 2012 at

I don’t expect most companies to do this because it’s risky behavior if you ask me! It’s one thing to be open/honest, it’s another thing to call yourself a fool openly that is not to say Mcdonalds are wrong but some companies may have reservations about this approach.

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Philos Mudis August 7, 2012 at

Why the opposite approach? It takes a lot of guts.

Some companies also think that addressing all these issues can increase to more exposure and less profitability: For example when their answers or the direction they take when answering a question lead to more questions.

Some are also headed by leaders and managers who don’t want anything to do with the approach McDonald Canada took.

But they can join the game once they see one of their competitor’s use this approach to win more business and consumer trust.

I also guess that it is easier to learn how to make the ‘secret sauce’ by watching a short video than reading thousands of words. The combination of video and text is a plus for them.

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Marcus Sheridan August 7, 2012 at

Good stuff Philos.

No doubt, many companies are afraid of more questions.But frankly, this has never made a darn bit of sense to me.

We all know that consumer doubts leads to them shopping elsewhere, yet we continue to ignore. Crazy.

Thanks for stopping in Philos, I always appreciate it.

Marcus

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Ryan Hanley August 7, 2012 at

The flow of value has changed…

No longer do consumers pay money and then receive value…

The value comes first, lots of value… Then consumers pay money.

Going Ostrich is not an option.

This is a fantastic example buddy. Appreciate it.

Hanley

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Marcus Sheridan August 7, 2012 at

“Going Ostrich is not an option.”…..LOVE it dude :-)

Always appreciate you stopping by Hanley,

Marcus

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Adarsh Thampy August 7, 2012 at

I’d love to see KFC take the same approach. I’m a die hard KFC fan and I have been hearing all these “stories” about how chicken is not real chicken and all such stuff. Because of this, I do not frequent KFC.

If KFC could come out and explain things like McDonald’s is doing, it would restore my confidence and I’d start visiting the outlets more and more (resulting in more business for them).

Hope more and more companies start being transparent.

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Marcus Sheridan August 7, 2012 at

Great point Adarsh about “restoring confidence”….that’s exactly it bud, and it’s about time companies realized such a shift is possible if they’d stop burying their head in the sand.

Appreciate you stopping by my friend.

Marcus

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Rebecca Livermore August 7, 2012 at

Adarsh, though it’s been a long time, once upon a time, my son worked at KFC and was cooking that chicken, and it’s indeed chicken. I can’t really vouch for the KFC locations in India, though at least from an appearances perspective, my experience in U.S. restaurant chains in India would indicate that they seem to have the same quality control standards that are adhered to in the U.S.

Now what actually happens in the kitchen, I don’t know, and I’ve also never eaten at KFC in India. I have, however, eaten at KFC in China, and if I was eating something other than chicken, they did a great job of making whatever it was taste like chicken. ;)

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Davina K. Brewer August 7, 2012 at

Ooohh.. totally going to be thinking about Ryan’s value-money flow concept. Plenty of cases it’s true – and not, because value is in the eye of the beholder. Which brings us to McD’s Marcus and it’s one of those global brands that – along with their ‘value’ proposition – is almost marketing-proof. One of their other social efforts actually did well, but was branded fail b/c of a little over-hyped shoulda-been-expected-outta-their-control flack.

Do more ads really help? Would less hurt? IDK. Do ‘Mythbusters’ stories drive away consumers from McD’s? Not really, nor does customer service that’s often lackluster at best. The ‘secret sauce’ is a good example; at some Disney restaurants, I’ve been offered recipes to dishes I’ve liked. And of course given the option to buy one of their cookbooks that give away even more ‘secrets.’ When you play at this level, sometimes more transparency actually gets people wanting, buying .. more. FWIW.

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Marcus Sheridan August 7, 2012 at

Yep, it’s quite an interesting subject indeed Davina, but the fact that McD’s is leading the way in transparency is just further evidence as to why they dominate the marketing branch of the fast food industry.

Great seeing you lady :-)

Marcus

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Linda August 7, 2012 at

Good afternoon, Marcus!

I am no McD fan, but I most certainly applaud their strategy.

Against advice and other’s prophecies of doom, I recently took a similar step with my business. I’m not in the McD league either in terms of business or the action I took, but I have to say it has proved to be the best course of action I could have taken at this time.

I published a few posts outlining verbatim the complaints my guests had made and how I was handling them. Advertising sites that would otherwise have charged me for placing the business with them have said they want my business regardless (also known as free of charge), because I’m the most open and honest person within the niche that they have come across through making the complaints public. I now have no advertising costs!

Bookings are up too…

If I could emulate the McD model of using video, I would. I’m confident the way forward is through education about both good and weaker aspects of the business – though I’m still not sure I want a burger…

Kind regards,
L

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Marcus Sheridan August 7, 2012 at

Linda, I love what you’re doing!! Seriously, you’re attacking it head-on and winning the battle…and getting rewarded because of it. Sweet!

Keep up the great work,

Marcus

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Geoff Livingston August 7, 2012 at

Thank you for highlighting a winning social media campaign from a company. I want more post like this in our larger blogosphere, and less corporate bashing. Way to stick with the winners, sir!

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Marcus Sheridan August 13, 2012 at

Amen to that Geoff. That’s certainly one of my goals–focus more on the superstar companies doing it right out there.

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Jordan J. Caron August 7, 2012 at

Nice topic Marcus. They caught my eye with a video they did showing why their burgers in commercials are different from what you actually get. See said video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSd0keSj2W8

The video shows how they dress up a burger for commercials. Cool stuff.

But we all know that’s not the burger we’re going to see when we order it. So wouldn’t true and full transparency show the real burger (the one you actually get) in the commercials?

Is it because they have to make the burger sexy since we’d never go “Yeah, that looks so good. I want one now!” if they should the real thing?

Interested to hear you’re thoughts.

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Marcus Sheridan August 13, 2012 at

Well, very true Jordan. They fake it. But so does every single fast food company, and restaurant, food product, etc.

Doesn’t make it right, but they’re a dime a dozen. Tough call.

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diana baur August 8, 2012 at

I dunno. I’m not going to say it’s a total crock, but a rubbery disk with fake bread not rotting because there’s no water or warmth in the air or in the product? Whatever. I don’t doubt the lack of nutrients, though.

The roll is bread? Really?

But that’s not your point here. Your point is that they answer their customers’ questions. Yeah, ok, from a marketing perspective, it’s ok.

But I don’t see this as transparency. I see it strictly as a sales tool. As spin. For me, transparency has another ingredient – honest communication. And let’s face it. The product is a glycemic, triglyceride loaded, obesity inducing plethora of waste. It’s hard to be honest about that. I think the question they need to answer is, “Why do you create ‘food’ that causes so much harm to the human body?” To which the only honest, non-spin answer would be, “You’re right. We’ll stop.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total McDonald’s hater, but I get bristled at the idea that they are being honest. They are picking and choosing the questions. I’d like to see the REAL list they get at the corporate headquarters. I bet the one I just mentioned above is on there – and won’t ever get get answered, not really. Hard to spin a question like that.

It’s junk food. We all know it, the whole world does!

I guess my point is, if global players who make products that do no good and a lot of harm take on social media and “transparency” to sell their products, that makes them good marketers. But it does not make them good companies.

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Marcus Sheridan August 13, 2012 at

Valid points indeed Diana. My opinion is this though:

Doctors agree that coffee is bad. Addictive. All that stuff. But is Starbucks bad?

Ben and Jerry’s makes tons of people fat with their amazing icecream–none of which has nutritional value, but does that make them bad?

Heck, the examples go on and on and on.

I still think people need to be accountable for themselves, because so many businesses are unhealthy out there–and not just food–thus self-control and wisdom has to be accounted for.

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Anton Koekemoer August 8, 2012 at

Hi Marcus ,

Yes , I do agree. Old Ronnald Mc Donald has some of the best and biggest cojones when it comes to social media and the way forward in the long term. They also show what can be done if a company has a lot of financial backing when it comes to their Social and media PR department. And yes, this is one of the prime examples that you’ve shared in your post. Well done to Mc D’s…

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Marcus Sheridan August 13, 2012 at

Appreciate it Anton. I do wonder, as you mentioned, what their Social budget is. Hmmm….

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John Falchetto August 8, 2012 at

Hi Marcus,

The way I see it, you can put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.
Here McDs got shot some videos to answer questions from their customers, it doesn’t change that what they sell is crap.

So do they have balls doing this? Um why not, but the real balls would be to actually change their menu to include grass fed beef, not feedlot, and organic veggies in their burgers.

Now that would take serious cojones!

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Diana Baur August 8, 2012 at

Amen.

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Rebecca Livermore August 8, 2012 at

Maybe, John. But making those changes would drive prices up, and a lot of people would be mad about it, and not everyone worries about whether or not veggies are organic. People who are concerned about that can always eat somewhere else, though there would be very few restaurants that would meet that standard, fast food or otherwise. (In other words, that criticism should be leveled at most restaurants, not just McDonalds.)

But really, the point is transparency, so the problem isn’t whether or not they use organic veggies, but whether or not they pretend to do so when they don’t. As far as I know, they’ve never claimed to use organic veggies or grass fed beef, so I don’t see a problem with them doing what they do and letting consumers chose where they will eat.

The biggest problem that I have are with restaurants that don’t make their nutritional information available, or make it hard to find. As long as that info is available, it’s up to the consumer to be big boys and girls and make choices based on the information they have.

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Marcus Sheridan August 13, 2012 at

Falchetto, you health nut, you! ;-)

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Alan | Life's Too Good August 8, 2012 at

Hi Marcus,

There are lots of examples of abuse via twitter. It’s easy to do these days and one of the problems online is that if unaddressed, comments which may even be untrue can stick. This is why companies should not bury their heads in the sand.

There have been a couple of cases of racist tweets – I can think of an example where the target of this abuse responded publicly and another where silence (coupled with reporting the abuse to the police) was actually the best answer.

I think you’re right though, these days the marketing world is a very public forum and especially in business the best way to deal with questions is in public.

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Ginny Soskey August 8, 2012 at

Awesome post here! I love seeing McDonalds, who has gotten some flack this past year from some of its terrible social media efforts (#McDStories anyone?), open up and try to have honest communication with its community. I especially that they are including video in their responses–it makes the conversation more authentic, in my opinion. Thanks for taking the time to put this together and share it with us. :)

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Marcus Sheridan August 13, 2012 at

Yep, the video was stellar, wasn’t it Ginny?

And how can any marketer not respect their transparent efforts?

Frankly, I’m blown away with the whole thing.

Thanks so much for stoppin by!

Marcus

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Jeevan Jacob John August 9, 2012 at

I haven’t been here in quite some time. Anyways, how are things, Marcus?

Oh, yes, the post.

That’s just mind blowing (a bit exaggerated? or is it?).

I don’t know, but I am astonished by McDonald Canada’s transparency. Great example on how companies could not only answer the question, but also gain brand loyalty out of it (These questions sure do show of them as a trust worthy brand who actually cares about their customers, especially because they called in a professional to explain the answer).

Anyways, we should congratulate the marketing guy(s) over at Mac Canada for making such an approach to answering the questions of customers.

I hope that other companies see this and decide to take this approach, as an opportunity to promote their brand.

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Keith McGorlick August 11, 2012 at

Hi Marcus!

As far as marketing goes, these guys seem to be the ones to follow, they’re always at the forefront of the new way to do things, it seems!
I have a friend whose daughter is in the management training program at McD’s in Canada and the amount of time and expense they put into training is staggering!
One thing is sure…….these guys don’t do anything halfway.

Keith

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Marcus Sheridan August 13, 2012 at

That’s exactly it Keith. They do it right. I don’t care what people want to say about their food, because their training and marketing is seriously amazing.

Thanks so much for stopping by,

Marcus

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Chetan Vengurlekar@Best SEO in Mumbai August 15, 2012 at

Whoa! Need to strategize business the McWay. ;)

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Marcus Sheridan August 16, 2012 at

Hahaha, the “McWay”, I like that Chetan ;-)

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Barrett Rossie August 15, 2012 at

Marcus, it’s amazing what happens when people take pride in their work, work in the spirit of service, work hard to do the right thing, then open the doors so people can see there’s nothing to hide and in fact, a lot to be proud of. This campaign is much to McD’s credit and a great model for the rest of us.

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Marcus Sheridan August 16, 2012 at

Amen to that Barrett. A lot of people go after McD’s but this what they’re doing here is incredibly forward thinking and innovative in my opinion,and deserves praise.

Thanks for stopping by sir!

Marcus

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Jim Weidert August 16, 2012 at

Hi Marcus, Any reason this is McD’s Canada and not US? Any plans to roll out US transparency soon? In my experience, most brands are aloof and inward positioned. They are much more concerned with inward “corporate” challenges than actually thinking like consumers. I know this because I’ve challenged them face-to-face with how they behave as consumers, as human beings, themselves vs. how they behave as corporate marketers. It’s like a bright light was shined in their eyes!

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Marcus Sheridan August 16, 2012 at

Jim, you are spot-on my friend. And why this concept of transparency is feared by so many baffles me to this day.

Just keep shining the light buddy,

Marcus

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Jens P. Berget August 17, 2012 at

Hey Marcus,

This is the first time I’ve heard to this. And, I must admit that being a vegetarian, I don’t visit McDonald’s that often :)

But, what they’re doing on social media looks to be awesome. And, this is something I’ll be showing to my clients as well. Many of the people I’m talking to still believe that they should hide their negative comments. And especially not start talking about them if customers aren’t talking about them first.

I believe it’s natural to think like that, since that’s how it’s been for so many years. And nobody really likes to talk about the bad stuff, right? It’s like going on a first date with a girl and telling her about your bad habits, and hoping that she’ll stay for the second date :)

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D.J. Maak August 19, 2012 at

Hey Marcus,

I think McDonalds has it all figured out. I wish more companies were this transparent (about both the good and the bad) so you didn’t feel like they were trying to hide something or pull something over on you.

It gives McDonalds a real personal touch when they go out of their way to answer questions and even create video responses. I think I might go get one of those never rotting burgers right now. :)

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Marcus Sheridan August 19, 2012 at

Hahahaha, “never rotting burgers”…love it DJ, good stuff indeed :-)

Thanks for stopping by,

Marcus

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