In the aftermath of what commentators have dubbed ‘Piggate’, the accusation that our Prime Minister David Cameron was intimate with the head of a dead pig as part of some kind of twisted initiation ceremony for the Piers Gaveston Society (a shady men’s dining club for the uber-privileged at Oxford University), there have been mentions of Lyndon B. Johnson’s ‘Pig fucker’ principle (made famous by Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72).
For those who don’t know, during the 1972 Democratic Primaries, incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson may or may not have spread the rumour that his opponent was a ‘pig fucker.’ When an aide pushed back on the fact that the accusation was baseless Johnson is said to have retorted ‘I know, I just want to make him deny it.’ Although no one has officially made a claim to coining the term as ‘The Pig Fucker Principle’, I would challenge you to find a PR person who would suggest that these kind of accusations, like those currently levelled at the PM by Lord Ashcroft in his book ‘Call Me Dave’ should be responded to and summarily denied. Denying such claims gives them a level of legitimacy in the very act of acknowledgement.
With their latest ‘Good to Know’ campaign from Leo Burnett, McDonald’s have decided to fly in the face of subtlety and address the accusations commonly made about the quality of their products (specifically the ‘chicken’ and ‘fries’) head-on.
In the ‘chicken’ ad we get a put-upon young lad who looks like he’s spent his whole Saturday morning following his mum around the shops and waiting as she tries on endless cardigans in the women’s section of M&S making an innocent plea for chicken nuggets. His poor mum Sarah then seems to go into some kind of nervous breakdown as she recalls the various rumours about chicken feet and beaks (which have already been debunked by both internal and external parties) that she’s heard and read about online. We then get a Food Tech teacher Rosie who looks kind of like Mary Berry but younger utilizing her expertise to tell us what chicken breast looks and tastes like before we split screen back to a newly reassured Sarah and her son who happily purchase their happy meal. The second ad (below) runs across similar lines as office worker Steve is close to being deterred from eating McDonalds French Fries by his dead-eyed colleague, controlling girlfriend and a market trader with obvious ulterior motives before being set straight by the no-nonsense authoritative farmer Terry.
McDonald’s, in a similar way to William Hague back in 2010 has allowed a seed of a rumour to grow by acknowledging it and dignifying it with a response. It’s hard not to agree with Mark Roalfe, Chairman and ECD of RKCR/Y&R in Campaign Live where he states that they ‘protest too much.’ There are a multitude of ways in which MacDonalds and their comms partners from Leo Burnett to their PR people could have countered these prejudices against the brand but barging in head first with such a forceful denial seems like an ultimately flawed strategy which will not meet the objectives of the original brief.