Tuesday, May 02, 2006

McDonald's, Schlosser, Buzzcops, and all that...

I wanted to write a bit more about the whole controversy about McDonald's, Eric Schlosser, the buzzcops and all that.

First, to the buzzcops: hi! Welcome back to the Street. How is New Hampshire (or Virginia, or D.C.) this time of year?

Now, as to my theory that there are such folks as buzzcops around: I've done a bit more looking. McDonald's is taking the new book by Schlosser, Chew on This, very seriously. It is a version of his previous book, Fast Food Nation, which has been re-conceived to be aimed at teenagers. Alongside this, a new movie is being released later this year, a fictionalisation of his earlier book Fast Food Nation (not a documentary like the earlier Super Size Me), which they are concerned about.

In fact, according to a news story at The Guardian, McDonald's is taking pre-emptive action against Schlosser:

Internal McDonald's documents reportedly show that the company is shifting into "crisis management" mode in advance of Chew On This, a young people's version of Eric Schlosser's book along with a forthcoming film adaptation of Fast Food Nation. The plans speak of mobilising a "truth squad" to attack both works, and of initiatives to "discredit the message and the messenger".

Plans sent to McDonald's franchisees, originally obtained by the Wall Street Journal, seek to reassure restaurant managers that "a lot of work is going on behind the scenes ... from a crisis management standpoint" - part of a "full-scale media campaign" to tell "the real story" about the world's largest restaurant chain.

(Read the entire article here.) (There's a similar article in the Independent -- but it needs registration, first.)

This seems to support my idea that there might well be people paid to surf the internet and monitor the buzz around Schlosser, et al, and when 'word on the Street' doesn't go their way, to offer counter-buzz (or what some might characterise as ideological disinformation). Such disinformation might well take the form of ad hominem attacks (to discredit the...messenger) and non sequitur innuendo. Of course, these are not the methods used by someone who has a good case to make, they are the sorts of things that people do (at least, do intentionally) when they know they don't have a leg to stand on.

What sort of a "truth squad" would seek to discredit the messenger? And doesn't 'truth squad' sound like nothing but 1984-ish newspeak, which would call a lie the truth?

Now, in fairness to McDonald's, they deny acting to discredit the message and messenger (in the same story in the Guardian). On the one hand, that is naturally what they would say, acting in their own defense; on the other hand, if it were true then our cynical suspicion of them would keep us from the truth. I would be willing to believe them...but for the presence of the buzzcops, who obviously act otherwise.

An article in the marketing trade journal Advertising Age reported on this topic as well. They reported that insiders say that McDonald's is 'panicked' about the forthcoming movie. The article also says that:
McDonald's response to these threats will likely focus on moves it has already made. In the past two years it has rolled out more-healthful offerings like salads, milk and apple slices to offset its more indulgent fare, but it has also invested heavily in public relations platforms focused on healthful lifestyles and activity.

The fast-feeder set a global advisory council on balanced active lifestyles and turned clown icon Ronald McDonald into a fitness ambassador. In addition, the chain put nutrition information on packaging and hosted a quality symposium and Internet campaign to tout and "bust" myths about its food quality.

And I must say, apart from the disinformational potential of the last half-sentence, these are laudable moves. They have indeed added healthier options to their menu and taken other positive steps.

Moreover, Schlosser is not someone with an irrational desire to 'get McDonald's' (or other fast food restaurants). He has specific concerns, developed from his research. As the Ad Age article ends:
Mr. Schlosser wants to hear from them. "I hope [McDonald's] engages in a substantive debate about the issues raised by the film and avoid personal attacks on the filmmakers, not to mention the threat of legal action," he said. "They get their point of view across every single day on TV. If they believe in democracy, they should welcome criticism and debate...and not engage in the kind of personal attacks that are attempts to distract people from the really important issues."

Finally, you might take a few minutes to look at the Kaiser Family Foundation's report on the role of media in childhood obesity. It is appropriately nuanced in its findings, but suggests that the marketing of fast food and junk food to children through television advertising likely plays a large role as the 'main mechanism' by which media contributes to childhood obesity. So the concerns about fast food companies marketing to young children is warranted.

Labels: , ,


Blogger Philip Young said...

I love your posts on this. WHIle I know the main topic is the Buzz Cops, I find it very humorous that anyone goes to McDonalds (or any fast food place) for healthy food.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006 3:14:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home