PTC to Robert Gibbs: Will You Carry Administration's "Moral Disapprobation" of Sexual Violence to New Role at McDonald's?

Written by PTC | Published June 18, 2015

ctribuneMcD Last week, McDonald’s hired former White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs to act as Global Chief Communications Officer. PTC Advisory Board Member Gary Lesser sent a letter to Gibbs, reminding him of the strong stance the administration he once represented took against sexual assault on college campuses; and urging him to make a priority of addressing McDonald’s history of sponsoring programs that trivialize sexual assault. The letter read, in part:
How can a company that sells Happy Meals to children use its media dollars to sponsor jokes about sexually assaulting children? And from a consumer marketing standpoint, why would that same company reasonably expect families to purchase the company’s products? A strong and immediate commitment by the company not to associate its hard-earned brand image with jokes about raping children would help to restore the trust that many families feel has been violated. And there can be no doubt that such a commitment would have an immediate and positive impact on the corporation’s bottom line. During your tenure as White House Press Secretary, the Administration made tremendous strides in raising awareness of the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses, and challenging schools and administrators to combat the problem. Today one in five women report being sexually assaulted on college campuses, and 76 colleges and universities are under federal investigation for not doing enough to protect victims of sexual violence. Yet McDonald’s has invested millions of its media dollars to sponsor programming that jokes about such violence. We understand the need for the company’s marketing messages to reach a desired audience demographic. Cannot this be done without sponsoring jokes about sexual assault? In announcing new guidelines for schools in dealing with sexual violence, Vice President Biden said, “It's not sufficient to have criminal enforcement. We must at every single level of our society make clear the moral disapprobation of society at every level for such behavior.” I have no doubt that you share the Vice President’s commitment to showing that as a society, we deplore such behavior. And so I have great hope that as you step into your new role at McDonald’s, you will make a priority of addressing McDonald’s association with entertainment programs that trivialize rape, sexual assault, and molestation. When our entertainment media trivializes – and even asks us to laugh at – horrific acts like sexual assault, they are helping to foster a culture in which rape seems less intolerable or less deplorable. A growing body of research has documented the desensitizing effect that exposure to this kind of messaging can have on the viewer. Sexually violent content in movies has been found to increase acceptance of violence against women, increased acceptance of rape myths and victim blaming. Other studies have found that repetitive exposure to movies that include sexual violence against women is associated with men’s increased enjoyment of the content. That is to say, when television treats the victimization, sexualization and exploitation of children as nothing of consequence, people are more inclined to think it’s nothing of consequence. Girls who are exposed to these messages are more willing to accept harassment and abuse; men are more apt to believe such behavior is okay; and the rest of society becomes comfortably numb to a culture of sexualization and abuse. McDonald’s is a corporate giant and a global leader with billions to spend on advertising. But with that position and influence comes a tremendous responsibility to be a responsible corporate citizen. If McDonald’s refuses to underwrite programming that trivializes sexual violence, it sends a loud and clear message to the networks and to other advertisers. And the message it sends the public is deafening. Your challenge, as you step into your new role as Global Chief Communications Officer, will be to once again cast McDonald’s, in the eyes of the world, as an ethical company that cares about the communities it serves. Will McDonald’s continue to underwrite programs that trivialize sexual violence? Or will McDonald’s “make clear the moral disapprobation of society at every level for such behavior”? You have an opportunity now to make a lasting and positive impact on the culture for this generation and perhaps even generations to come. Thank you very much for your consideration of this letter and I look forward to hearing back from you at your earliest convenience.
That letter is already making waves, as is evidenced by this story in the Chicago Tribune, and this story in the Palm Beach Post. Where a company runs its ads is as much a part of the message as the content of the ad itself. If McDonald's wants to improve ad performance and help its bottom line, it should not be seen to support programs that trivialize sexual violence, especially sexual violence against children. Want to let McDonald's know how you feel about its TV ads? Join us by sending a message directly to McDonald's (click here).

Take Action. Stay Informed.