Thursday, August 23, 2012

Are McDonald's Social Media Strategies Stupid?

Usually I write about Stupid Products and Stupid Press Releases (hence the blog name). But today I'm doing something different - actually noting an ongoing and multifacted PR campaign that's interesting. It's from McDonald's. Yes, McDonald's! Like many brands, they're trying to appeal to the mom bloggers as well as regular consumers. Ad Age had an interesting article this week discussing their social media campaign in the U.S. And the New York Times had an excellent story on how McDonald's is remaking itself (menu, store interior) and using Twitter to tell stories. They invited a handful (well, three handfuls) of bloggers for an all-expense paid trip to its headquarters where they were wined and dined (so to speak) to get the word out.

I wasn't invited to that, but I've had my share of attention from McDonald's as a blogger. (Keep reading for some video below).

As the publisher of Frisco Kids, I've been contacted several times by PR firm for McDonald's Bay Area.  For the past few months, I've gotten emails offering me information on McDonald's meals for 600 calories or less, eating on the run with the USDA MyPlate guidelines, customizing orders at McDonald's, and what the chain is doing from a quality food and nutritional menu offerings.

Just yesterday I got an email inviting me to an "invite-only culinary event to showcase the quality of McDonald's ingredients." Three local chefs will cook up a gourmet meal using ingredients found in the McDonald's refrigerators. Admittedly it's got me curious from a culinary perspective. What would they come up with, using: hamburgers (possibly unpattied), lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, French fries, eggs, pancakes, English muffins, soft serve ice cream, salad ingredients, grilled chicken, breaded chicken, steak, cheese and tortillas? And a variety of sauces.

McDonald's was one of the sponsors of BlogHer. They hosted a "listening tour breakfast" (I didn't sign up) where they sampled new offerings and executives talked to the bloggers and answer questions solicited previously. You can read a transcript here.

They also chartered a bus for Boston bloggers to bring them to the conference. Onboard (captive audience!) they had a chef discussing healthier options at the restaurant and they made a pit stop (guess where?) to sample some of the options. Then they gave out branded Snuggies. They also sponsored the community CheeseburgHer party (as they've done for several years - and for the record, the party concept was not theirs, and was done without sponsorship the first year or two).

I did get coupons for three free McDonald's food items that are 400 calories or less, in the main swag bag. I haven't stopped by yet, but I might.

McDonald's Canada has a series of YouTube videos where they answer questions like "Why does your food look different in advertising than what is in the store?" They answer this by recreating a photo shoot and taking the citizen questioner to McDonald's to buy a comparison burger, then to the photo studio where they do a photo styling and shoot.

And the other video I really liked, about whether Chicken McNuggets are made from pink processed meat sludge and ground up bones. Because I have the same question! As you can see, we're not alone - here's a whole message board discussing what's in the McNuggets and various videos you can watch in your spare time where they try to prove what's in them. You've probably see the pink sludge photo (purportedly mechanically separated poultry made into a poultry paste, though I've also heard claims that the sludge is actually beef) making its way around the internet - no clue if that's what McDonald's uses, however McDonald's took the questioner to an independent food lab that tested cooked and frozen chicken nuggets to confirm that it's white breast meat chicken, no bones, and no whitening agents. They don't address the sludge issue or how the nugget is actually made. But the video leaves the IMPRESSION that it's a wholesome nugget made of chicken breast meat and breading.

So is the campaign working? I can only speak from personal experience. I don't usually write about fast food (other than this post), and I can't say I have one planned on Frisco Kids or Jersey Kids any time soon on healthful eating at fast food chains (certainly magazines have done this topic before). But as a parenting blogger and a health writer at Kaplan Ink Medical Writing, it's a very interesting concept.

As a mother, I know they've been trying to address some health issues (offering milk and apples in the Happy Meal instead of soda and French fries). I'm not sure I'd ever consider it a healthful restaurant, but I when I go there (only on road trips), I usually order their salads or wraps (which can be better fat-wise than the burgers and nuggets). I do think their social media push (along with new food offerings) will have an impact on changing perceptions of the restaurant.

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