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The role of reputation when your brand comes under the spotlight

The latest McDonald’s advert, in which the main protagonist is a grieving child who has recently lost his father, has perhaps unsurprisingly hit the headlines. It’s caught the attention of many and divided opinion.

At a base level it begs the question of the link between such a profoundly sad event and a burger, or in the case of the advert, a Filet-o-Fish.

As is the norm, people have taken to social media to share their views and, as is also the norm, most are scornful (sadly many of whom have been through the experience); although perhaps not to the same extent as Pespi’s recent advert drawing on the theme of public protest.

Big brands tackling sensitive issues will always be taking a risk, but does that mean they shouldn’t try?

When it pays to take a risk

It could be argued that it’s not so much about the one-offs. Many can recall straight-forward adverts which have gone down particularly well or badly without being seen as contentious.

It’s when the subject matter is so sensitive that greater scrutiny is likely to follow.

What separates perceived ‘band-wagon jumping’, delusions of grandeur and potential offence, from well-intentioned, thought-provoking content around such topics, is what else the brand has done over the long-run to build its reputation for similar.

McDonald’s in the UK has invested much thought, time and money over the last decade to develop its reputation for being a responsible company.

Grass-roots football sponsorship, food quality and provenance and adapting its menu with healthier choices are just a few examples.

So while many have been surprised by the latest advert, when you consider it in the context of the company’s actions to build its reputation as a responsible company over the last decade, a different picture emerges.

Companies won’t always get everything right and depending on the brand and the size of the issue they will draw unwanted attention, but if actions are consistent with a longer term plan, then reputation provides a certain level of protection.

Populus’s Reputation and Strategy team works with boards of global companies and public institutions to help them understand, influence, and improve their reputations. Find out more about our actionable, evidence-based reputation services. 

Ben Loyd

Ben is a corporate reputation expert focused on managing client planning and strategy at a senior level, developing and nurturing client relationships, and helping clients identify how reputation can inform and advise business decisions.

Prior to joining Populus as Director of Corporate Reputation, Ben led a team of 25 on global reputation and research as Head of Millward Brown’s Corporate Practice. He has a wealth of experience in leading reputation teams and tackling client reputation challenges.

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