News & Views
Are the McDonald’s QR codes in the name of transparency or publicity?

Ever since Morgan Spurlock explored the health risks of an entirely fast food-based diet in his documentary Super Size Me almost nine years ago, the ways that McDonald’s chooses to portray its brand have subtly changed. In recent years, ad placements have been more informative about ingredients, with television campaigns depicting rolling green fields, rustic barns and children playing. There is no getting away from the fact that McDonald’s is a corporate Goliath, but these ads are keen to convince us that its products are fresh and wholesome.

The latest strategy in Maccy D’s ongoing mission to prove itself as a family friendly, health conscious restaurant adopts augmented reality technology. Scannable QR codes will be placed on all bags, offering customers quick and simple access to all necessary nutritional information, and empowering them to make a balanced decision about what they order.

Kevin Newell, Chief Brand Officer at McDonald’s, had this to say on the project: “Our new packaging is designed to engage with customers in relevant ways and celebrate our brand. Customers tell us they want to know more about the food they are eating and we want to make that as easy as possible by putting this information right at their fingertips.”

The QR codes have already landed in the US and are scheduled to pop up across the globe throughout the year, with content available in no less than eighteen languages. But while this entire scheme might seem a fantastic and simple idea in theory, in practice it is something that is unlikely to change any consumer habits.

Adam Singer succinctly summed up the issue over at The Future Buzz: “nobody uses QR codes”. And while he might not be 100% accurate in that generalisation, it does raise a valid concern. Two months ago, Forbes ran a story on QR’s struggle to achieve market penetration; so where exactly is the value in releasing content through a channel that only a small portion of people will ever actually bother to look at? The rather uncomfortable answer is that there is none, which doesn’t make much sense, unless you consider the volume of media coverage McDonald’s have received for their efforts.

Singer’s suggested alternative was a short URL, which would cut out the need for QR reading apps or software and might have the potential to encourage more widespread use – the masses are certainly more familiar with shortened links than QR codes, if Twitter is any indicator. At present, however, the limited reach of the supposedly transparent nutritional information suggests this entire exercise has been for PR purposes rather than to empower consumers.

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