Oprah Winfrey recently featured a tour of a Cargill Meat Solutions plant in Fort Morgan, Colorado on her television show and web site. The Cargill representative said that the company handles the animals with dignity. How much of this is true and how much is the truth being padded to improve public relations? I wish that their corporate aim was to respect the animals and care for their customers, but it would take much more information for me to know whether that were true. In any case, a version of Cargill’s operations has been presented to the Oprah audience via her show, web site, and other media, and consumers may or may not dig deeper.
Creating web sites is another way for large corporations to disseminate information regarding causes to which they want to appear sympathetic. But do they really live up to the public relations? I randomly sampled a few web sites like this recently. Are these examples of corporations getting on board with causes which interest sections of their target markets? Or are they examples of public relations employees working to co-opt these causes to improve their corporation’s image and win over more customers? We need more information about these corporations’ actions to be sure, but take a look at these web sites and see what you think.
Corporate Web Sites Which Share Our Concerns:
McDonald’s Open Farms McDonald’s is the official restaurant of the 2012 Olympic Games. This website could be a sign of McDonald’s trying to take a turn towards being more transparent about their food sources and towards seeking higher quality, more local, and more just sources. It could also be a public relations sort of “green-washing” to show that they are in tune with the desires of some consumers to know more about their food sources. In a pdf available on this “Open Farms” page, McDonald’s UK points out that they’ve been using free range eggs for over a decade. That fact sounds good. How much does the rest of their operations live up to the ideas of sourcing food locally and fairly? I’d like to know. The web site certainly looks good.
Other McDonald’s Websites These are McDonald’s web sites which are more for the U.S.A. market. One example is McWorld. This is a site targeted for children and allows them to interact as cutesy big-headed avatars. The obvious goal here is to promote positive feelings associated with McDonald’s. It’s not like kids were clamoring for such a thing, as there are a oodles of online games for grade-school aged kids (Club Penguin, NeoPets, etc.).
Three of the other sites are a bit more confusing to understand for me. 365Black.com, MeEncanta.com, and Myinspirasian.com are three ethnically targeted web sites. I don’t get why McDonald’s PR people felt compelled to create and maintain a trio of web sites directed at non-Caucasian consumers. I also think these sites are an odd mash-up of flash animation, language translation, videos, and confusingly written content.
Nonetheless, I’ve read that they have had some success hitting target markets with these web site campaigns, communicating that McDonald’s wants the business of different ethnic groups and wants to encourage their brand loyalty through “cultural” content on these sites, “community events”, celebrity endorsements, ethnically homogeneous video clips, scholarships, and employment.
Are Americans really feeling like McDonald’s cares about them because of these sites? Do McDonald’s execs and employees really have a special concern for different ethnic groups? They sure want us to think so. I pulled the following quote from McDonald’s 365Black.
“Like the unique African Baobab tree, which nourishes its community with its leaves and fruit, McDonald’s has branched out to the African-American community nourishing it with valuable programs and opportunities.” – 365Black
This trio of web sites has been around for more than half a decade, although they’ve undergone changes in that time (“Myinspirasian.com” was previously “i-am-asian.com” and McDonald’s still seems to own that domain name). As far as who created the pages for McDonald’s, all I know is that IW Group, inc. handles at least some of the ads and public relations for McDonald’s regarding the Asian-American target market.
Others have pointed out these web sites before. For another discussion of the sites in their present state, I refer you to “Sociological Images” where Gwen Sharp blogged about these three sites on March 02, 2011 in a post called “Race, Ethnicity, and McDonald’s Marketing Strategies“.
On a more positive note, many people have found Verizon Wireless’ recent Celebrating Your Story initiative to be a positive addition to ethnically targeted campaigns by large corporations. Celebrating Your Story celebrates Black History Month with short video narratives about past and present African-Americans, many of whom have unsung stories among the general public. I would imagine the underlying goal is still to connect with a target market and attract or retain customers for Verizon, but these short clips seem to have merit to some people.
What do you think? I know I learned about people of whom I had never heard by watching some of these videos. I think the overall message of celebrating history and encouraging people to reach for goals and make their own stories is a good one. What does that have to do with how Verizon Wireless does business? I don’t know.
Last up are AfricanAmericanBud.com and the related A-B InBev sites…I am not kidding. Anheuser-Busch InBev has put out web sites called AfricanAmericanBud.com, LatinoBud.com, and AsianBud.com. LatinoBud.com has the best design out of all that I’ve mentioned in this post. It is slick, full of useful resources, and has easy, intuitive navigation. AfricanAmericanBud.com was not made by the same design team.
Like 365Black.com, AfricanAmericanBud.com web site offers info about how Budweiser connects with the community, education, and other opportunities. But it also features the Budweiser Great Kings and Queens of Africa program. Somewhat akin to the Celebrating Your Story campaign, this program actually does feature interesting snippets of world history, but why would ancient African kings and queens be the only ones featured here? Couldn’t they think of any contemporary Africans or Americans to put on a list like this, not even one person that was born since 1900? The last African King or Queen which is mentioned on the list is Nehanda in 1896. For real.
AsianBud.com is very slim as far as content goes, and it is outdated. The site doesn’t even show the correct year of the Chinese lunar calendar (it brings up a page for 2008 when clicked). The fact that they try to cram all “Asian Pacific Americans” into being Chinese is flatly ignorant.
And on that note, I say, let’s not leave our causes up to corporations. As I said in a post about Apple and supplier compliance, corporations may be given some of the rights of citizens by some governments, but I don’t see them ever being as committed to upholding positive causes as the citizenry is (or could be). Giant corporations can get on board if they want, but we’ll be the ones to write our stories and champion our causes. Don’t sleep.