McDonalds Canada

Behind McDonald’s big transparency play

McDonald’s Canada has gambled with a frank question-and-answer-driven social media campaign that has gone on to earn huge publicity and positive reviews. The CMO behind the campaign explains how and why the transparent approach worked.

Is it true that Chuck Norris eats only at McDonald’s? Is there plaster in the milkshakes? What about giraffe meat?

McDonald’s Canada was aware that people were asking these and other much tougher questions about its food online. Rather than ignore the elephant –  or in this case, the giraffe in the room – last year, the company decided to confront the online speculation head-on with an interactive digital campaign designed to answer consumers’ questions and dispel myths.

In an era when transparency and conversation have become the most aspirational hallmarks of marketing, McDonald’s Canada’s efforts have become one of the most interesting ongoing campaigns of the last while.

Developed by McDonald’s and Tribal DDB Toronto, the “Our Food. Your Questions” initiative launched last May in an effort to create a direct dialogue with McDonald’s Canada’s customers. The social media campaign invited Canadian consumers to ask questions on McDonald’s website, Twitter, and Facebook. (Don’t try to submit a question unless you are in Canada. The site doesn’t recognize non-Canadian IP addresses.)

Answers appear online and some of them have been turned into videos that provide in-depth illustrations of the reality of McDonald’s food sourcing, ingredients, prep, and advertising. The videos have earned global media attention.

The first big attention-getter of the campaign addressed the question of why a burger you buy at McDonald’s looks different than the one you see in the company’s ads, and provided a behind-the-scenes look at a beef-based photo shoot. A cooking show-style video featuring McDonald’s Canada’s executive chef Dan Coudreaut demystified (to some degree) the ingredients in the Big Mac’s special sauce. The latest video takes a farm-to-fryer look at how McDonald’s Canada makes its world famous fries.

“There was a lot of discussion taking place in the digital landscape,” says Joel Yashinsky, chief marketing officer, McDonald’s Canada. “There were myths, misinformation, and rumors about our brand, particularly about our food.

Yashinsky says while the chain had devoted much effort to reimagining the restaurant experience – with the introduction of McCafes, free Wi-Fi, and the like – there were still questions and comments swirling around the food itself. “We weren’t part of that narrative,” he says. “We needed to get involved in a dialogue with our customers, particularly online.”

Since the campaign began, McDonald’s Canada has fielded more than 14,000 questions and responded with text on the website, photos, and the YouTube videos, which have earned millions of views. There are currently 7,100 questions and answers live on the site.

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