McDonald's CMO: 'we suffered from fake news long before Trump'

In an era of fake news and social media driven consumer advocacy, McDonald's has had to open up its brand and marketing efforts in unprecedented ways.

Alistair Macrow: senior vice-president and chief marketing officer at McDonald’s
Alistair Macrow: senior vice-president and chief marketing officer at McDonald’s

Speaking at Media360 in Brighton last week, Alistair Macrow, senior vice-president and chief marketing officer at McDonald’s revealed the brand had "suffered from fake news long before Donald Trump".

Macrow said this state of "persistent misinformation" would continue. He pointed to the growth of clickbait articles in the online fight for advertising revenue as one driver of this trend. As well as the fact that false stories travel faster than the truth.

He warned: "Fabricated stories erode trust in the media as a whole, creating closed loops and echo chambers."

This is a shift, he explained, which has significant implications for McDonald’s marketing strategy, as building trust is so crucial to success. "We have to grow the highest level of trust in consumers. You cannot be loved if you can’t be trusted. The customer is the only truth we have and we have to keep listening to them," he said.

The fast food giant, which has record 44 consecutive quarters of growth, said opening up its company to scrutiny alongside investing in TV advertising to tackle misinformation head on has been key to the brand’s fightback in the midst of a virtual maelstrom of myths and misinformation.

From engaging with YouTube influencers to opening up their kitchens and suppliers to scrutiny McDonald’s has placed ultra transparency at the heart of its marketing strategy.

It is an approach also reflected in Macrow’s swift response in pulling an ad featuring a boy mourning the loss of his father.

Addressing the controversy head-on, Macrow said: "There is no good listening if you don’t take action. McDonalds reacted in the right way quickly."

Five key takeaways for brands from McDonald’s drive to build trust in a post-truth world:

1. Embrace independent voices and the power of influencers

"We could only land our messages if they came from a voice independent from ours," explained Macrow. This is why the brand partnered with YouTube influencers to go behind the scenes and shoot content from McDonald’s kitchens.

2. Internal engagement is everything

McDonald’s is one of the country’s biggest employers of young people and the ability to engage with them is crucial. "Our colleagues get behind our business. Franchises and operators are crucial to success," he explained.

3. Relevance trumps disruption

Notably in an era in which the rhetoric of disruption is so often top of the marketing agenda, Macrow took a nuanced approach to the pace of change. He explained that the brand seeks to stay "half a step ahead" of its consumers to stay relevant. He explained: "This is why we have waited to now to do mobile payments and introduce delivery".

3. Don’t forget TV

Notably in the midst of the trust crisis, Macrow pointed to the power of TV advertising to build trust. He explained: "TV is tried, tested and trusted. It is the perfect way to take on fake news."

4. Transparency is everything

"I can't think of any supply chains that have lifted the lid so comprehensively," said Macrow pointing to the importance of transparency in gaining consumer trust. "Today I want us to be so transparent that you don’t have to ask any questions because the answers are there for all to see," he added.

5. Context matters

In the wake of The Times' investigation into ads appearing next to controversial content on social media, Macrow underlined the importance of context to advertisers. "We want to know where our content is going, and what it appears next to," he explained.

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