The More things Change…

Having covered, followed, and consumed food media for near five years now, I’ve been able to see trends come and go. So much so, that now I’m starting to see that old themes and memes that were tried in the past are being trotted out again as a new.

The latest rehashing comes from McDonalds, who clearly see that being noted as purveyors of unhealthy food is a bad thing. So once again, they’re starting a PR campaign that says essentially “Your Mom wouldn’t steer you wrong, would she?”

The idea behind the company’s Quality Correspondents program: If McDonald’s can win over moms by showcasing food quality (the eggs in Egg McMuffins are real) and highlighting healthy options, the company can brighten its image at a crucial time in the arc of the fast-food industry. Customers, bombarded with news about food recalls, are paying more attention to safety, quality, and ingredients – despite still not wanting to wait very long for their lunch. The message takes on heightened importance now, as cash-strapped parents bargain in their heads over whether a McDonald’s meal can take the place of higher-priced options.

Let’s follow the Egg example that they bring up in the article. It’s not that the egg is unhealthy, in of itself. Rather, it is the fact that it’s placed on a buttered english muffin, pared with a slice of Canadian Bacon or a sausage patty, and then topped with a slice of cheese.

And while it is admirable that they claim that they treat their chickens and cows with some measure of respect, the PR problem they have is that they offer their chicken up as deep fried nuggets, and their beef in 1/4 lb. sandwiches.

And then there’s the fact of their customers who eat more than one of them. But that’s a different problem.

Look, McDonalds. Let’s face facts. You make money selling unhealthy foods. Sorry. But look at your menu. Yeah, you sell salads, but let’s face the fact that most people don’t go to your restaurants because you have killer salads. They go because you deliver fat, sugar, and salt in a cheap and relatively efficient manner.

And yes, it sucks that you take the hit for almost all of the other fast food restaurants. No one is held to such scrutiny as you. This is the curse of being number one in what you do.

But if you’re going to define quality by measuring the healthiness of the individual ingredients, but not the end product, then you’re going to lose the PR battle.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. McDonalds (and really, all fast food places) should quit pretending to be something they are not.