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A Branding Enigma Taunts another Big Brand


Brand Marketing

by Kenneth Rudich

Just as we were on the verge of moving forward with more new and original content, we’ve been drawn back to the topic of Brand Management by another vivid illustration of the twists and turns it can take in this modern era of social networking.

In the last few posts we’ve discussed some recent branding challenges faced by Greyhound, Best Buy, Papa John’s, and also the potential for some collateral damage to the NFL by virtue of its sponsorship affiliation with the aforementioned pizza maker.  Each was uniquely different, uniquely relevant and uniquely given to tainting the brand.

Now another has emerged.  This one involves the iconic brand McDonalds – specifically, a franchisee in Philadelphia.

Here’s a recap of what we know:

  • An employee captured a cell phone video of what he says is a mouse scurrying through a bag of Big Mac buns in a back room of the store. 
  • After turning the video over to the local Fox affiliate TV station, he told a news reporter that the store’s General Manager instructed employees to scrape the mouse droppings from the affected buns and then proceed to use them as if nothing happened.  He further claims to have observed this kind of behavior upwards of seven times in recent history, and to have even seen the GM do it herself.
  • A second ex-employee attests to having witnessed the same conduct.
  • The General Manager denies the allegations.
  • Meanwhile, it turns out the camera-bearing employee waited a month before disclosing this revelation.  He did it after being fired because of performance issues.
  • The Philadelphia Health Department regards this establishment as “not in satisfactory compliance” with public health and food safety conditions.  Though they found no evidence of rodents, they did cite problems such as live flies in the food prep area; perishable food that was not kept cool enough; and refrigeration units that were not operating properly (watch the full report)

A Branding Enigma

We’ve characterized this circumstance as an enigma because the storyline is surrounded by a combination of allegations and facts that must be sorted and individually examined.

Preserve the Corporate Brand

To the extent that the franchise has been — and still is — on the local Health Department’s radar should spawn legitimate concern at the corporate level.  We do not know if these issues already have been addressed, or if they are in process of being addressed. 

Nonetheless, this particular matter seems pretty clear-cut.  As one person shared in the comments section located below the news report, “I have called the GM in the past about the invasion of flies!!! That is one filthy nasty burger joint!!” 

To wit: either these issues get resolved, or else McDonalds should move to revoke the owner’s franchisee privileges.  Period.

Do Not Overreact

If only a rodent could talk.  Then it might be easier to unravel this tangle of circumstances.  As Sergeant Joe Friday use to declare on the old tv show Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am.”

Those close to the scene have an opportunity – nay, a responsibility – to help flesh out the truth.  Corporate would be well-advised to press the issue internally, and to assume some oversight for making sure it does not end up becoming a case of ugly mismanagement heaped atop of bad PR.

Several potential issues should be explored within the value chain.

The Product Component

  • Did the GM do what she is accused of doing?  Or was this fabricated by ex-employees who are trying to exact revenge?
  • If the GM acted as accused, is there a culture problem – one in which the profit motive is so overriding that it comes at the cost of being customer-centric…and ethically responsible?
  • Are there rodents on the premises?
  • Is there a potential supplier problem?  One statement that stands out in the comments section raises this issue: “Before we target that particular McDonald’s, I know who produces those rolls and have been in their plant.  Am not surprised.”  Insofar as corporate has a “quality suppliers” advertising campaign in full swing, it must be certain this is nothing more than one person who merely wants to take a poke at the brand.
  • As a further step, I would try to contact and interview the individual who wrote this comment: “there is a lot more then (sic) what the public knows about that Mcdonalds.” 

“Do not overreact” means untangling this convoluted mess as best as possible before determining a next course of action.

The Communications Component

  • One aspect to consider throughout this process is to be continually transparent and communicative at the franchise level.  Let the public know what is being done, where you are in the process, and what has been done at the conclusion of it to assure it has been properly dealt with.
  • Corporate, meanwhile, must monitor (as I’m sure it already does) the social media and networking environment (with the hope this doesn’t escalate or spread into a far worse situation).  It must do as required to prevent it from spiraling out of control.  At the same time, it must be mindful to move with caution, so as not to unduly fan the flames of public disapproval.          


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