McDonald’s McBombs: Latest Brand Brouhaha is a Dog

Kansas City radio listeners had a front-row seat to a recent McDonald’s advertising gaffe set afire by social media. An ad introducing the fast-food giant’s new Chicken McBites not only didn’t work; it resulted in a vocal backlash against the company.

The radio ad, which aired for several days in the Kansas City market, read like this:

Voice 1: “Trying a brand-new menu item at McDonald’s isn’t risky. You know what’s risky? Petting a stray pit bull. Or shaving your head just to see how it would look. That’s risky. Naming your son Sue? Super risky. Giving your friends your Facebook password? Ultra risky. So trying a new menu item at McDonald’s is about a zero on the old Risker Scale.”

The ad continues for a few seconds, touting a special McBites promotion that ran from Jan. 30 – Feb. 5.

As the ad continued to air, more people caught on to the pit bull reference, prompting a vocal group of pit bull supporters to start a Facebook page. Pit bulls are often portrayed as senselessly violent creatures that roam the streets in search of their next victims; yet in reality, most dogs will bite if provoked—after all, it’s all about common sense.

What we like about this? McDonald’s swift response. They caught wind of the backlash quickly and issued an apology:

“The ad was insensitive in its mention of pit bulls,” said McDonald’s in a press release, according to AdAge. “We apologize. As soon as we learned of it, we tracked the source and had the local markets pull the ad immediately. We’ll do a better job next time. It’s never our intent to offend anyone with how we communicate news about McDonald’s.”

The ridiculous part? Even though the McBites promotion is over and the radio commercials are off the air, pit bull supporters are planning a rally at McDonald’s restaurants on Feb. 24. Seriously, people need to get a grip.

Mistakes happen. Poor judgment happens—on the part of brands and perhaps agencies handling their business. But consumers need to figure out what the heck it is that makes them happy. When a brand pulls a bonehead move, responds to public outcry, removes the offending ad (or whatever) and apologizes, do we really need to continue to excoriate them? To what end?

It’s kind of like when we work with brands in the social space. One of the first questions we ask of them is “What does success look like for you?” And we work to figure that out, before we get started. Because that’s how we know when we get there.  The same is true when something bad happens. Consumers who are up in arms about something should ask themselves, “What does a successful resolution look like?” And once a brand has done what makes sense to affect a resolution, let’s remind ourselves to be satisfied and collectively get off their backs.

Make no mistake, this was a bonehead move. And I understand why pit bull owners were upset. But seriously, do we really need for this to carry on? Eat at McDonald’s, don’t eat at McDonald’s, but they goofed. They removed the offending ad and they apologized. Quickly. Can we all just move on?

This is the second instance in just about 30 days that McDonald’s tested the waters on something and had it blow up on them in the social media space. Their promoted trends #MeettheFarmers and #McdStories didn’t work out so well. And Rick Wion has taken a lot of grief, but my hat’s off to him—I think he’s doing a terrific job of crisis management.

The McDonald’s McBites campaign serves as yet another reminder that companies of any size need to have a crisis plan that’s ready to implement at the drop of a hat. After all, even the most well intentioned campaigns can take an unpredicted swerve into bad press territory, and brands need to be prepared to do what they can to contain, respond to and move past the crisis.

My friend Anne Weiskopf wrote a great post about this called Six Keys to a Great Apology. And these six little steps can make all the difference in the world:

  1. Address the issue quickly – silence is not an option;
  2. Even if it is not directly your fault, apologize anyway;
  3. Intent matters—people are more likely to forgive an honest mistake;
  4. Identify the steps that are being taken (or will be taken) to fix the problem;
  5. Pick the right medium for you to be effective (e.g. a well-written apology is better than a poorly delivered video message);
  6. Continuously monitor all social and non-social media channels so you can continue to address the problem further if needed.

Although such public disasters are humiliating for any brand, there’s usually a valuable lesson (or lessons) to be learned when things don’t go as planned. And after the McBites disaster, McDonald’s will hopefully spend more time (and thought) on its advertising copy before the campaign is released to the public.

What are your thoughts on McDonald’s advertising gaffe? Are you like me and think people need to move on and leave it alone? Or do you think we need to continue to beat them up?

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