McDonald’s could energize declining sales by returning its ad focus to family friendly television and abandoning broadcasts with sex, violence and foul language, the Parents Television Council (PTC) has told the fast food chain.
In the United States, McDonald’s sales decreased 1.7 percent in the first calendar quarter of 2014 ending March 31, operating income declined 3 percent, and earnings fell 4 percent to $1.21 per share, the company reported on its corporate website.
Although the Parents Television Council acknowledged it cannot definitively state that McDonald’s performance is due solely to its advertising placement on programs with offensive content, the council contends McDonald’s performance began declining after the corporation abandoned a family focus and began targeting Millennials by sponsoring the programs they watch.
“You cannot definitively state that as the sole cause,” said Melissa Henson, the PTC’s director of grassroots education and activism, pointing out McDonald’s slip from the PTC’s list of the 10 best sponsors judged on avoidance of programs with graphically violent, profane or sexually explicit content.
“But I think if you look at McDonald’s history for example, the last time they were on our best list was in 2007. And around the same time, they were dominating the competition at a time when … some of the other fast food companies were not pursuing a family friendly ad strategy. McDonald’s was at that time” pursuing a family focus, Henson told Baptist Press. “In the last few years McDonald’s has gone in the opposite direction. They’ve starting sponsoring more and more offensive content.”
PTC president Timothy Winter pointed out McDonald’s advertising habits in an April 4 letter to McDonald’s president and CEO Don Thompson.
In the first quarter of 2014, Winter said, McDonald’s sponsored an episode of “The Family Guy” that joked about pedophilia in referencing “The Magic Flute in A Minor” as a “pedophile opera”; multiple episodes of the serial killer drama “The Following,” including an episode featuring a woman’s throat being slit; and an episode of “Reign” that referred viewers to an online-only version of the installment that featured two explicit sex scenes.
“Mr. Thompson,” Winter wrote, “I believe McDonald’s can improve its fortunes by returning to a family focus.”
Association of National Advertisers research supports the PTC’s conclusion that such advertising placement is hurting McDonald’s image, Henson said.
“[The association] found that if a brand was in a context that seemed to be inappropriate for the brand, then that affected the consumer’s perception of that company and that brand,” Henson said. “For example, if you’re a beer company and you’re advertising on a kid’s show, that’s going to negatively affect the perception of the brand, not because” viewers may think there’s something “inherently wrong with selling beer. That’s because it’s a bad environment to be advertising it.
“And the same is true on the converse. If you’re a family friendly company and you’re advertising on a show that contains high levels of graphic sex, violence and foul language, then that’s going to affect the way people view the brand.”
McDonald’s is viewed as a family brand because of its Ronald McDonald Houses that provide housing for families during their children’s extended hospital stays in other cities; happy meals for children, and kid-friendly atmospheres including playgrounds at many of its franchise locations, Henson said.
“They’ve got the Ronald McDonald House, and yet at the same time, here they are advertising on programs like Family Guy, where … they’re trivializing child sex abuse. And that is just so, so appalling that this family brand that has done so much good in their communities would be supporting this kind of content with their advertising dollars,” Henson said. “And I think that the drop-off that they’ve had in recent months and years is because they’ve sort of muddied the waters about who it is that they’re trying to get into their restaurants.”
McDonald’s responded to the PTC in an April 17 letter.
“It’s important to understand that McDonald’s is not directly involved with network/radio programming decisions,” a McDonald’s customer satisfaction representative wrote. “As an advertiser, our role is not to determine what broadcasters should or should not air. That decision belongs to the broadcaster and, ultimately, to the individual viewer. However, we recognize our customers support a diverse view of programming interests. As such, we appreciate you sharing your opinion and have shared it with our Marketing Department where it will be considered for future advertising decisions.”
The PTC is asking consumers to bring the issue to the attention of neighborhood franchise owners. To that end, the council has included on its website a letter for consumers to download, sign and share with franchise managers. The letter is available at http://w2.parentstv.org/main/Campaigns/images/McD_leaflet.pdf.
Business analysts attribute McDonald’s declining performance to several factors, including ill-fated menu changes and improvements among its competitors, according to Crain’s Chicago Business and other news outlets. Conversely, McDonald’s blamed bad winter weather, analysts reported, and on its website, attributed a decline in earnings per share to “the impact of prior year income tax benefits.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is general assignment writer/editor for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)