“Truth in advertising” has become almost something of a punch line over the years. Brands aren’t allowed to lie outright about their products, but “spinning” the facts and sweeping unpleasant truths under the rug have been staples of brand promotion since marketing was invented.
And yet, McDonald’s Canada has adopted a policy of complete openness and honesty, answering some rather candid questions submitted by customers, and answering them truthfully. And it seems to be working.
Canadian customers (identified by their IP addresses) can go to McDonald’s Canada’s website and ask any question at all about their food. Ugly rumors about the ingredients used and the methods by which the food is prepared have plagued the fast food giant for years. So some of the questions are less than pleasant. But one of the perks of this program is that it gives McDonald’s a chance to address these rumors head on and show people what’s really going on behind the scenes.
Not surprisingly, McDonald’s Canada received a lot of questions about their fries. Are they cut or mashed up and reformed? How much salt do they contain? Are they even made of real potatoes? In response, McDonald’s made a video, showing the entire process their fries go through—from harvesting potatoes to cutting and blanching the fries to cooking and seasoning them. When asked about why the food in their ads looks different from the food they actually serve to customers, McDonald’s showed a double cheeseburger photo shoot, which includes several hours of careful food sculpting, as well as a little bit of Photoshop—but not any ingredients or substances that aren’t found in their regular burgers.
What is McDonald’s doing here? Rather than focusing on maintaining their corporate image, McDonald’s is trying to establish trust among their customers. And in today’s world, wherein we’re naturally suspicious of anything we’re told in a commercial or by a corporate spokesperson, that candor is the most effective way to earn customers’ respect—and their business.
This is, essentially, the key to successful promotion with social media. Unlike traditional forms of promotion, it’s reciprocal. Not only do you have the opportunity to talk to your audience, but they have the opportunity to talk to you as well. You can connect with them and respond to their questions and concerns. And you can build their trust by establishing yourself as an expert. This means telling people the truth about what they want to know, rather than feeding them a pre-fabricated line of spin. Answers should be less concerned with portraying your company in a good light and more concerned with giving people the answers they’re looking for. It may seem counter-intuitive from a marketing perspective, but your customers will appreciate you more for it, and your reputation will end up better in the end.