Written in partnership with DEVENEY
Over the past couple of years, there has been an increase in activism and protests to voice concern over various topics and issues such as abortion, gun reform/school shootings, sexual violence and animal cruelty, just to name a few. Supporters of these groups are very passionate about their respective causes and can create turmoil for a brand’s reputation if one happens to get caught in their cross hairs.
Activists will do anything to bring attention to their cause, whether it be staging protests outside of a business or vandalizing a brand’s identity through every possible outlet, including social media networks, advertising, direct mail and grassroots efforts. By engaging with and empowering their supporters, these groups can quickly build momentum, control the conversation and increase support in other locations.
On March 25, 2018, McDonald’s was targeted by an animal rights group that criticized the chain for its “chicken welfare policy” – pressuring the corporate giant to agree to source its chicken from more sustainable/humane farms. Over the past year, the group has also targeted other fast food empires, food suppliers and manufacturers demanding the same commitments, many of which have agreed to the group’s demands such as Subway, Starbucks and Burger King, Sodexo, General Mills and Carnival Cruise Lines.
The group launched an aggressive fight against McDonald’s and has appropriated its logo, slogan, products and mascot for a negative image campaign, which has been implemented online, on bench ads in front of restaurants, on mobile billboards and in full-page ads in the Chicago Times and the New York Times. The group has also taken to projecting negative messaging on buildings next to restaurant locations and erecting large-scale, branded product installations around Chicago. Through an online campaign, including email newsletters, supporters are being mobilized to protest outside of restaurants around the world and at McDonald’s U.S. headquarters in Chicago.
To date, the group has not received the commitment they are seeking from the brand, and each day the attack continues. McDonald’s has not publicly responded to the group.
Think your brand might be targeted next? Here are a few recommendations on how you can identify and monitor any activist groups possibly targeting your brand.
Activism Monitoring Toolkit
- Identify current groups and groups on-the-rise that might be targeting your brand and/or your competitors
- Keep an eye on the news and hot topics nationally and globally and identify topics that might be a pain point for your brand (animal welfare, gun reform, etc)
- Listen to public opinion, as it changes quickly
- Set up Google Alerts for trending terms/issues
- Utilize social monitoring tools such as HootSuite or Sprout Social to see posts and engagements as they happen
Befriend the enemy:
- Sign up for newsletters
- Follow social accounts to keep an eye out on what brands they are targeting and why
- Develop a media relations plan, community relations plan, and risk communications strategy
- Assign roles to team members who have relevant experience in crisis management
- Conduct a media training for key executives and spokespeople
- Prepare talking points and a holding statement
- Prepare responses in the event you begin receiving calls, emails or negative comments on your social networks