McDonald's Paying The Price For Ignoring Changing Customers, Thinking PR Can Wash Its Hands Clean

As profits tumble 15% at McDonald's, I have to say that despite being a "take personal responsibility" kind of guy, I'm quietly cheering that the restaurant chain is having issues with consumer confidence, almost certainly as a result of people choosing healthier diets.

The bad news for the chain is that now that a tougher line on cigarettes is being taken -- the removal of branding on packages is looking likely in the UK -- it won't be long until politicians turn their attention to junk food. Labour is pledging to ban ads for junk food before 9 pm, in line with today's call from the British Heart Foundation. We could debate all day what "junk" means, but let's just agree it's the kind of food that we all know isn't very good for us and usually takes less than a minute to make the journey from a deep fat frier to a cardboard box. 

Given the headlines surrounding the NHS' struggles to keep up with demand at the same time that the "This Girl Can" fitness campaign by the government is topping the online viral video charts, it's very easy to predict healthier lifestyles that prevent illness will be a big political issue. Encouraging people to do the right thing so they don't need to clog up doctor and hospital waiting rooms in the first place is the way forward, and burger chains are going to find themselves in the firing line.

Now McDonald's, just like Coca-Cola, can point to initiatives that encourage people to get fit. While McDonald's does seem to have an interest in coaching football at the grassroots level in the UK, I must say most other schemes look pretty much like the health equivalent of "greeenwash" -- designed more to get a few good images of people jogging in the annual report than making any real change.

There are two ironies here. One is that companies that are identified as being part of the cause for the obesity epidemic are claiming to be part of the solution. The other is they don't think the public will conclude they are scratching a guilty conscience by organising a jog in the park. 

If these companies really want to be part of the solution, they could try a lot closer to home. I'm not a McDonald's fan for the very simple reason that I get immersed in their "greenwash" -- or should we call it "healthwash"? -- as a grassroots football coach. Yet, answer me this. If you've made healthier lifestyle choices for your kids, just try going in to a McDonald's with a bunch of kids after football training and ask for a vegetarian Happy Meal. Every other possible meat feast is catered for but if you're a child who doesn't eat meat, I'm afraid you can't have the box all the other kids want, and that applies to the free toy too.

I've questioned McDonald's many times about this on social media. I have never once received a response on the medium their marketing team will say they're using for a two-way conversation with the public.

So if you just throw a bit of corporate citizen budget at getting a few people who probably jog anyway to join you in the park for a jog they were likely to be taking regardless, you can't really expect to be forgiven for all your perceived sins.

When you have a chance to change what you do and embrace shifting consumer demands and yet fail to do so, you really do only have yourself to blame.

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