McDonald's Morale Crumblin

by John Groves

AdBusters; Winter 1996; USA

Press Index

McDonald's Corporation currently operates 18,000 restaurants in 89 countries and a new McDonald's franchise opens somewhere every 17 hours. Now the fast food giant wants to speed up its global expansion to eight restaurants per day over the next two years - that's a new restaurant opening somewhere on Earth every three hours.

To propel this dazzling rate of growth McDonald's recently signed an unprecedented multi-million dollar promotional alliance with Walt Disney Co. "Fast-feeders are increasingly dependent on these kind of promotions," said marketing expert Michael Schau in an Advertising Age story, "because they have a new kind of toy, a new kind of 'happy meal,' a new angle to hook kids."

But unlike a supernova which burns brightest and hottest just before it explodes and collapses in on itself, McDonald's may be experiencing a final stage of rapid expansion before it implodes under the weight of international public condemnation.

The catalyst for this disintegration may well turn out to be the McLibel 2. Otherwise known as Dave Morris and Helen Steel, the McLibel Two team has caused McDonald's no end of embarrassment in their highly publicized UK libel court case with the multi-national corporation. The two-year-old trial has seen the issues of misleading advertising, diet, ecological degradation and worker exploitation raised in relation to McDonald's practices, and has increased public awareness about the damaging impact companies like McDonald's have on our mental and physical environment.

Furthering the public relations debacle for McDonald's is the recently launched McSpotlight Website, which highlights some of the trial's

more memorable moments and provides 35 megabytes of damning information about the fast food chain.With one million hits in the first month, McSpotlight is certain to erode McDonald's well-manicured image. As a final blow, thousands of culture jammers from around the world are combating McDonald's corporate discourse by affixing "Grease" stickers throughout the urban landscape.

Dan Mills, spokesman for the McLibel 2 support group, told Adbusters that morale among McDonald's workers is wilting under the intense media glare. 'McLibel has been a focus for employee discontent and has created solidarity between McDonald's employees,' he said. Disgruntled staff have testified in court that McDonald's waters down its milkshakes and condiments, and cuts the corner off its cheese slices. They have also accused the company of being homophobic, racist and virulently anti-union.

Mills said the recent outbreak of mad cow disease and continuing growth of the vegan movement has further affected the burger chain's morale and respectability. "I don't think we're all that far from having the type of food McDonald's serves being considered the same way as smoking," he mused. "There wil be some type of government health warning, probably, on McDonald's food."

McDonald's executives are clearly worried about such a prospect. On numerous occasions they have tried to settle the libel case out of court and memos leaked from the company's headquarters show intense efforts at damage control are underway. Although McDonald's hasn't yet succumbed to the mounting criticism of its activities, a symbolic victory over the company can already be claimed - Geoffrey Guiliano, a Ronald McDonald actor in the 1980's has quit and publicly apologized for "brain-washing yongsters into doing wrong."

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