Will McDonald's Keep Its Word?

Written by PTC | Published January 13, 2015

Little more than a week after McDonald's announced plans to take their advertising in a more "positive" direction, the company that pledged to listen to consumers has apparently turned a deaf ear to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who are fed-up with excessive TV sex and profanity directed at kids. McDonalds ads appeared on the most recent episode of Fox's Family Guy, supporting content including vulgar references to female and male sexual anatomy and masturbation. In an open letter to McDonald's Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl, the PTC asks whether McDonald's is just giving lip-service to listening to customers and injecting more positivity into its advertising and marketing, or if they will also walk the walk by distancing themselves from negative, degrading content like this.
Dear Ms. Wahl, Over the past year, the PTC has made repeated attempts to engage in a dialogue with McDonald’s Corp. about its sponsorship behavior while trying to urge McDonald’s to go in a more positive, family-friendly direction with its television sponsorship. We have been encouraged that although McDonald’s has not responded to any of our outreach efforts, we have seen some positive changes in sponsorship behavior. We spent the first few months of 2014 communicating our concerns about McDonald’s paying for jokes about rape, incest and pedophilia on Family Guy to your CEO and Board of Directors. And for a time, it appeared that McDonald’s had quietly pulled its sponsorship dollars from Family Guy. While in the first quarter of 2014, McDonald’s ads were seen on nearly every episode, by the end of the 2013-2014 season, our analysts were no longer seeing ads from McDonald’s. Which is why we are so disturbed to see McDonald’s ads appearing once again on episodes of Fox’s Family Guy; especially in light of your recent promise to move McDonald’s marketing in a more positive direction. The January 11 episode of Family Guy, which included ads for McDonald’s, featured a vulgar reference to female sexual anatomy (“the stinky ‘V’”), three bleeped f-words, the phrase “jag-off,” and a reference to masturbation: Stewie: Hey, Brian. Wanna go see Dr. Hartman and get that procedure where you get two wieners? Brian: Whoa! Hell yeah! That way when I watch Black Swan, I can aim one at Natalie Portman and aim the other at – Stewie: Yes, yes, we all know who the other one was. Ms. Wahl, in announcing McDonald’s new marketing strategy, you yourself said that McDonald’s is moving from a philosophy of “billions served” to “billions heard,” but it seems you still haven’t heard the voices of hundreds of thousands of concerned moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and grandparents who don’t want children exposed to messages like those above. You still haven’t heard the voices of the more than 90% of Americans who believe there is too much sex and profanity on television. The environment in which a message runs in part of the message. If you want McDonald’s to inject more “positivity” into its advertising and marketing, you’re not going to get there by paying for jokes about masturbation and female sexual anatomy. Last January, after McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson told investors during a conference call that they needed to “re-establish the trust of customers,” the PTC penned an open letter to Thompson, telling him that a key strategy in reestablishing that trust must be remembering the families that have been the cornerstone of the McDonald’s brand for decades, and once again pursuing a family-friendly ad strategy. Are these just words, or are you committed to reestablishing the trust of customers? Is McDonald’s truly interested in taking their advertising in a more positive direction? Or is this just a gimmick to get some positive press? Ms. Wahl, we are calling on you and McDonald’s Corp. to not just talk the talk, but to walk the walk. We truly believe that McDonald’s can improve performance and return a higher value to its shareholders simply by making a conscientious effort to avoid associating its ad dollars with highly sexualized, violent and profane television programming and directing its media buyers instead to buy time on family-friendly programs. Content like that seen on Family Guy does not reflect well on the McDonald’s brand, and will not help you meet your marketing goals.

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