‘It is raw, it is surprising’: How McDonald’s gross McNugget video is becoming the new marketing standard

‘It is raw, it is surprising’: How McDonald’s gross McNugget video is becoming the new marketing standard

Armina Ligaya | February 8, 2014 7:30 AM ET
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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hF0BwSul2Es

A stark glimpse at how chicken parts, skin and seasonings ground in an industrial-sized steel blender into a pulpy, beige goop eventually become McNuggets has been dubbed marketing genius — but it certainly wasn’t pretty.

But McDonald’s Canada’s latest video in which they take cameras behind the scenes at a Cargill factory in London, Ont. to show how their supplier makes their famed, kid-friendly dish — tackling the rumours of added “pink slime” head on — appears to have been well received.

It’s the most recent installment of their “Our Food, Your Questions” campaign, in which the Canadian corporate arm of the giant multi-national fast-food chain answers consumer-submitted questions about their products.

But this video, which aired during the SuperBowl and now has more than 2.2 million views on YouTube, takes this transparency approach to a new level. It showed the guts and gore many brands are reluctant to display, said Adrian Capobianco, managing director of digital for Canadian marketing agency Cundari.

“When they started the campaign, they were making a big bet. And it seems they’ve gone further, and doubled down, so to speak,” he said. “It is raw, it is kind of surprising. I think that’s what will help spread the word.”

For decades, the world of mass-produced food was mostly a mystery, kept out of the sight of the public who didn’t want, or need, to know. As the famous German quote goes: “Laws are like sausages — it is best not to see them being made.”

But with social media giving consumers the ability to interact directly with brands and demand more information, coupled with the public’s growing concern about their food’s origins in recent years, this has resulted in a move towards transparency, said Mr. Capobianco.

McDonald’s Canada launched the website “Our Food, Your Questions” campaign in June 2012, in response to this consumer appetite.

“Transparency is now a currency, and that currency gains trust,” Mr. Capobianco said. “Consumers will find their own version of information, whether it’s right or wrong. And, it’s clear that McDonald’s felt that a lot of it was wrong, or outdated.”

Indeed, McDonald’s Canada says one of the “most pervasive myths” centred around their Chicken McNuggets.

Lingering questions about the ingredients of the deep-fried bite-sized treats stemmed from public furor over so-called “pink slime” — a filler made of finely-ground beef scraps separated from the fat and treated with ammonia hydroxide to kill any pathogens. British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver was the most prominent food critic to lambast the use of the industrialized substance by restaurant chains and food producers, which resulted in many changing their ways. A photo of pink slime — which resembles a strawberry-sorbet ooze rather than ground meat — has long made the rounds on the Internet, and somewhere along the way became associated with McNuggets.

McDonald’s Canada’s latest video aimed to “combat the misinformation and tell the truth about this iconic product”, said Joel Yashinsky, chief marketing officer for McDonald’s Canada, in an emailed response to questions.

There’s no nice way to show how to make a chicken nugget that is shaped in a way that chickens aren’t

“Chicken McNuggets are made from chicken breast, seasoning, along with a natural proportion skin, used both for flavour and as a binder,” he said. “The narrative on our McNuggets was not a good one online and it led to conversations at home and in schools that we believed we needed to address. And that required the transparency.”

That also meant showing the inner workings of their supplier’s factory, for better or for worse. But marketing experts say, that gross element was key to the commercial’s success. It lends more credibility and authenticity to their message, and is far more effective than any white-washed, pristine response, said Scott Stratten, president of Un-Marketing agency.

“There’s no nice way to show how to make a chicken nugget that is shaped in a way that chickens aren’t… If you want something to go viral to compete with what’s being lied about, then you have to come up with something worth spreading,” he said.

Still, some consumer groups are unconvinced.

Darcy Higgins, the executive director of Food Forward, a Toronto-based non-profit that advocates for food justice, said while it is positive that McDonald’s is lifting the veil on how food is made, the latest video isn’t telling the whole story.

It addresses the pink slime issue, but when the video shows the formed nuggets — in the shapes of a boot, bow tie, bell and a ball — riding down the conveyor belt and coated in batter, the corporation does not say what that liquid coating contains, he said. This batter contains preservatives, including silicon-based products, he added.

“I don’t think they’re telling the whole story… it gives the perception that it’s a health product when it’s not,” Mr. Higgins said.

Paul Ferris, the North American campaign manager for SumOfUs, a consumer advocacy group and online petition site based in New York, agrees that the latest video glosses over some of the additives to McNuggets that “can hardly be called natural or healthy.”

“Most people realize that this is something produced by McDonald’s, which clearly has their profits at stake,” he said. “So most people are going to approach this commercial with a degree of skepticism.”

Full disclosure from food companies is an unrealistic standard not held in many other industries, be it cars, or insurance, said Ken Wong, marketing professor at Queen’s University. What’s more, some details aren’t shared for proprietary reasons, he said.

“If McDonald’s was trying to say they were a healthy food, then we should be all over them,” he said. “That’s not what they’re saying. They’re saying ‘Healthy, unhealthy, that’s up to you. Here is what we are.”

Still, Mr. Ferris said it’s encouraging that McDonald’s is taking steps towards disclosure, and believes that other brands will follow suit.

“There are more companies who are recognizing the increasing demand from consumers, who want more information about the conditions in which [a product] was produced,” he said.

It will be easier for other brands to open up after McDonald’s example, said Mr. Stratten.

“McDonald’s took all the risk to do it. And I’m sure it took a long time to convince people, and the powers that be, to let it out there,” he said. “It’s easier to copy and emulate than be a trailblazer… It does open the door for other brands.”

 

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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