PETA'S ads targetting Ronald McDonald as 'America's #1 Serial Killer were planned for display in the US in October, and in the UK in November. However, the UK advertising industry has caused controversy by banning them, even before they were submitted.

This is an extract from an article in 'Marketing' (a weekly UK trade magazine for those working in the advertising industry).



16th September 1999

McDonald's is under attack from both animal activists and French farmers. Can shock PR tactics harm one of the world's biggest brands?

The image is enough to make even the most hardened burger lover shudder. A skinned cow, blood dripping down the side of its face, in an abbattoir. The caption 'Do you want fries with that?' makes the ad's target immediately obvious.....

Accused of treating animals badly, damaging the environment and underpaying its workers, it seems McDonald's can do no right. The problem is a worldwide one: internet sites such as McSpotlight (which carries a full transcript of the McLibel trial) have whipped up localised attacks into something approaching a global backlash.

'It has got to a stage where people seem willing to believe whatever they hear about it - from funding the IRA to destroying the ozone layer' says a former McDonald's account director.

So just how did McDonald's end up as public enemy number one?


McDonald's took a serious wrong turn in bringing the McLibel trial against two green campaigners circulating anti-McDonald's leaflets in the UK. This not only brought many issues about its corporate behaviour into the public eye for the first time, it also had the effect of making it look paranoid and power crazy.

One reason cited by McSpotlight for attacking the compnay is because 'it takes itself far too seriously'.

Although the company won the McLibel case, the judge upheld that McDonald's was guilty of paying low wages to its workers and of cruelty in the rearing of some of its animals, and criticised the way children were deliberately targetted by the ads.

As a result it has been much easier for groups such as Peta to target the company. 'We are attacking McDonald's because we can - its backed up by the McLibel verdict' points out Bruce Frederich, Peta's vegetarian campaign co-ordinator.

But is McDonald's so much worse than any other fast food chain? Peta says that as a high-profile corporation, McDonald's needs to set an example. 'All the practices we are attacking are industry-wide' admits Friedrich. 'But we hoped that as an industry giant they could afford to make improvements which would impact on other fast food chains.'

No matter what McDonald's does, it will always be a bad guy in the eyes of pressure groups which don't like multinational capitalism, particularly when its well marketed.

The McSpotlight site sums it up: 'They are a symbol of all multinationals who are relentlessly pursuing profits at the expense of anything that stands in their way.'

So far McDonald's only response to Peta has been to insist that it does use humane slaughtering methods.

But last week, when McDonald's marketers gathered in Chicago to celebrate the 25th anniversary of UK business, you can bet that those ads were on the agenda.

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