Towards the end of March, McDonald’s Brazil circulated a social media campaign that featured the brand’s iconic golden arches separated. While the campaign aimed to promote solidarity in the midst of COVID-19 social distancing efforts, it did anything but.
With a company as high-profile as McDonald’s, all social media interactions will be judged in the court of public opinion. And judge it they did. The campaign was quickly circulated by a number of marketing based publications and users on Twitter were quick to criticize McDonald’s for disingenuously promoting their brand right in the thick of a global pandemic.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 25, 2020
Senator Bernie Sanders even chimed in.
Whatever your political affiliation, this was not good news for McDonald’s, who promptly pulled the campaign from social media. So, what went wrong? McDonald’s is not the only company to make reference to Coronavirus or social distancing in their marketing. Why did it backfire so hard? It has everything to do with their Brand Experience (BX).
America’s love affair with fast food has had a trepidatious past two decades. Legacy fast food chains have seen very little sales growth since 1999. American’s became more conscientious about the food they ate as the curtain was finally pulled back on what was going into the food and how it affects one’s body. This created distrust amongst the McConsumer-base, and led to many scaling back on their visits, or entirely eliminating it from their diet.
When the tweets are as broken as the ice cream machine. https://t.co/esdndK1iFm
— Wendy’s (@Wendys) November 24, 2017
While McDonald’s does offer sick-pay to workers at corporate-owned locations, the benefit does not cover 95% of locations, which are operated by franchisees. Known as an establishment with constant issues surrounding food quality; a humorous, yet infamous record of broken ice cream machines; and an already profitable global franchise, the message inviting consumers into their doors came off as a blatant grab to keep sales up in a looming economic downturn. While their very own labor force was risking their lives to keep their locations operating, McDonald’s, who already struggles to maintain a positive brand image, took to Twitter to make a joke. In the context of a global pandemic, it is tone-deaf to say the least.