Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Truth or McMarketing?

Bob Langert, VP for Corporate Social Responsibility at McDonald's, has been blogging since early 2005. I found out about the blog, Open for Discussion, a few days ago.

In Langert's words: "We want to open our doors to CSR at McDonald’s--to share what we’re doing and learn what you think. That’s the purpose of this blog."

I read everything he and his colleagues have written in the past few months, dug into the archives to read some of their earliest work, flipped through everything in between, checked out a bunch of comment boards, and posted a comment on the most recent post. The blog feels to me like marketing, and it's a bit self-congratulatory at times, but you can feel the real heartfelt effort in there.

The fact that they're doing it and many others aren't signals to me that McDonald's feels confident that they are as good or better on CSR and sustainability issues than their competitors. If they weren't, I don't think they would be writing about themselves. Imagine being Wendy's and seeing McDonald's blog about what great things they're doing with cooking oil and biofuel when maybe you do better things with cooking oil and biofuel. Wouldn't you use the blog as a point of comparison in a marketing push, highlight how unimpressive the McDonald's claim is? You'd come out the clear choice for rushed, hungry, recycled cooking oil buffs. If I was Wendy's, I'd be all over it.

Now I don't know who's better on biofuel, Wendy's or McDonald's. And I certainly don't have any meaningful understanding of fast food marketing competition. But it just seems to me that McDonald's is showing serious confidence by publishing the blog, and I like that.

That said, I'm ready for another level of confidence. I want Langert and Co. to start blogging about the ways in which McDonald's is unsustainable. They have taken small steps in this direction in posts about McJobs, the science and ethics of pigpen alternatives, and the 100% beef controversy, but I want more.

I want Langert to tell us that he sees that McDonald's is partially responsible for the depleted fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico (McDonald's burgers are made from mass produced cows; those cows eat mass produced corn; that corn grows in overfertilized dying soil; nitrogen from that fertilizer flows into the Mississippi and eventually into the Gulf of Mexico; and, once there, it feeds algae, messes with ecosystems, and drys up fisheries). I want to see Langert acknowledge the fact that McDonald's, as a huge beef buyer, has power to influence beef producers. I want him to outline the ways in which McDonald's is going to exercise that influence. And I want him to keep us updated: let us know what the cattle farmers are doing to influence feed producers, what those corn farmers are doing to keep nitrogen out of the water systems, and, hopefully, how Gulf of Mexico fisheries are recovering.

The moment a company like McDonald's takes responsibility for being a cause of a problem, they create for themselves an opportunity. They can change the way they do things, participate in solving the problem, and take a share of the credit.

Maybe Langert and McDonald's are headed in that direction. Maybe they're still too scared. I figure I'll stay tuned: keep reading their blog (learning what they're doing) and commenting on their blog (sharing what I think). Maybe some of you should too. You never know: they might talk to us.

Note: I first linked to Langert's blog through Ryan Mickle's blog. Ryan is the founder of, and both that site and Ryan's blog are well worth visiting.


Danny Shapiro said...

"If I was Wendy's, I'd be all over it." --> "If I WERE Wendy's, I'd be all over it."

C'mon. I feel like a Groton boy would know all about grammar. I guess I should start a blog about the decline in the quality of education from New England's leading boarding schools. Wa wa waaaaaaa.

~Tomato Pie

Jake de Grazia said...

You sure about that? I mean I'm certainly not sure. Should have called you for advice before posing apparently. I guess I just figured that since you're so bad at competitive eating, you wouldn't be good at counterintuitive grammar rules either.

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