Ubaid Zargar

Two months after the ‘cheese controversy’, McDonald’s holds on

The brand has unveiled a new ad film to promote its ‘authentic cheese’. But is it an overkill?

In February, McDonald’s faced significant backlash in Maharashtra over allegations of using fake cheese in its products. However, by early March, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) cleared the quick-service restaurant chain of any wrongdoing, affirming that the cheese used by McDonald’s is 100% genuine. Despite this vindication, McDonald’s launched a series of initiatives to address the controversy and reassure its customers.

The campaign began with a video message from Saurabh Kalra, managing director of McDonald’s India (West & South). In his address, Kalra emphasised the company’s commitment to quality and transparency, aiming to clarify the situation and rebuild trust with the audience.

Following Kalra’s statement, McDonald’s India released two more videos featuring its corporate chef, Swaroop Salgaonkar, and the brand's chief marketing officer Arvind RP. Both of them directly addressed the rumours, providing detailed insights into the quality and authenticity of McDonald’s cheese, further aiming to dispel any doubts lingering among the consumers.

You would think that the matter was done and dusted, especially since the brand was very prompt in addressing the issue, all within a couple of weeks of the initial mishap. However, two months after the initial controversy, McDonald’s has unveiled a new advertisement featuring celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor. In this ad film, Kapoor reinforces the message that McDonald’s uses only 100% real cheese in its products.

This endorsement by a celebrated culinary figure is evidently designed to further solidify the brand’s commitment to authenticity surrounding its cheese usage. 

However, is it really a wise idea to revisit an event that occurred two months ago, especially since the discussions around the topic have dwindled significantly? More importantly, is the time and energy invested towards yet another rendition of essentially the same message an overkill?

Sonam Shah, founder and CEO, Treize Communications, a PR agency, says that the brand has worked efficiently to address the concerns of the consumers. She says, “This is a good and positive step taken by the brand to address the issue. After the outbreak and suspension of one outlet in Maharashtra in February 2024, the FSSAI verified in March 2024 that McDonald’s India uses 100% real cheese. So, in a way launching this campaign after 2 months works well for the brand. It denotes that they waited for a clear chit from authoritative bodies and are not “just promoting” their side, which could have seemed in the face.”

Sonam Shah
Sonam Shah

As per Shah, the choice of celebrity to deliver the message is also apt, and convincing as an association. “The campaign with Sanjeev Kapoor looks natural and fits well. He is a known and trusted face for food and recipes, so partnering with him brings the right brand sentiments.”

It isn’t uncommon to see a brand fall into the pits of consumer backlash, often left to their ability to undo damage and regain consumer confidence. But with every such instance, come a series of lessons that others can learn from. Is the same true for McDonald’s?

Tarunjeet Rattan, who is the managing partner at Nucleus PR, opines that the brand took all the necessary steps to neutralise the situation. “speed, efficiency and efficacy all matter in a crisis. Having your whole team back you up from all sections also matters. I would not have done anything differently,” she says.

Tarunjeet Rattan
Tarunjeet Rattan

However, she opines that the brand might have gone overboard with the latest ad film. 

“This seems like an overkill. They got a case study out of it. Now it just seems like they are riling up an unnecessary controversy that can potentially backfire on them. They could have however used the second phase to go deeper into culinary excellence, processes, and ingredients that are frequently under fire on this brand along with new innovations and make cheese a subtle reference in the whole conversation.”

Shankar Shinde, who is the co-founder of Aisles & Shelves, notes three lessons that can be deduced from McDonald’s cheese timeline.

Shankar Shinde
Shankar Shinde

He says, “While it might seem counterintuitive to bring up a resolved controversy after two months, McDonald's strategy of reinforcing their message with a new ad featuring Sanjeev Kapoor is wise. This move serves several purposes.”

Firstly, he states, it Reaffirms the quality of the brand. “By continuously promoting the authenticity of their ingredients, McDonald’s reinforces customer trust and loyalty.”

As per Shinde, the sequence of actions taken by McDonald’s can also have long-term positive effects on the brand’s image, making it more resilient to future allegations.”

Lastly, speaking about the brand’s apparent revision of a two-month-old controversy, he says, “There are always new potential customers who might not have been exposed to the initial controversy but will now see McDonald’s in the light of their effective communications strategy.”

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