Got A Mac Attack? Would You Like Some Publicity With That?

I am a Maccas girl from way back. During my formative years, I spent more than a decade working under the Golden Arches. McDonald’s or Maccas as we Aussies refer to it, was a fun place to work. It Big MAcprovided an education that supplmented my book learning through school. It taught me about processes, structure and team work, suggestive selling and the six steps to great customer service.

During my stint at Maccas I was regularly called upon to do “window”. This was the name that we gave to the job of serving customers. At various points in my fast food career, Maccas ran a promotion

where the customer would have to recite the Big Mac Chant in 30 seconds or less to receive a free soft drink. As a window girl I would have to listen to endless customers chanting about the ingredients in a Big Mac. What people will do for for a free drink! For those of you who don’t know the Big Mac Chant goes something like this:

Two All Beef Patties Special Sauce Lettuce Cheese Pickles Onions On A Sesame Seed Bun

except if you say it fast it sounds more like:

twoallbeefpattiesspecialsaucelettucecheesepicklesonionsonasesameseedbun

You might be asking what this has to do with social media. Glad you asked.

A couple of days ago, McDonald’s launched its Big Mac Chant promotion. The idea of the promotion is to have Big Mac lovers make a video of the Big Mac Chant and upload it to the website. Visitors to the website then vote on the videos. The mysterious McDonald’s panel then determines the best video to award the grand prize of an overseas trip for 7 people and of course, a Big Mac.

This week in our course material we studied the habits of audiences in the online world. And Big Mac Chant campaign embodies much of what we talked about.

Phot courtesy of freedigitalphots.net

Phot courtesy of freedigitalphots.net

Audiences are not the passive recipients they used to be. Shock horror, we now want to participate, engage and be part of the discussion. Brands and news organisations have recognised and leveraged off this desire to various degrees. Some welcome audience participation, others do not. In what to me is a clever move, McDonald’s is playing the social media audience at its own game in what should be a win/win situation for both. The reward for a great Big Mac Chant is no longer just a soft drink and let’s face it, that just would not cut it in today’s world. The prize is now free publicity, validation and fifteen minutes of fame. The potential for likes and comments and possible retweets and linkages is huge. So, not only is McDonald’s harnessing the creative power of its Big Mac fans at little or no cost, it also feeds into their desire to show off and delivers to them a ready-made audience of fellow Big Mac lovers. Not to mention the odd video producer or advertising agency or two.

The cost of all of this involvement will be the need to moderate its community. The issue for McDonald’s will be that videos and comments left on its website by others will become in effect owned by it. This leads to issues both from a reputation or brand standpoint and a legal standpoint.

I want to focus on the later for the balance of this post.

Over the last few years, the Australian legal system has provided some guidance on responsibility for the activities of others in the online space.

Through a series of Court decisions and decisions of the Advertising Standards Bureau * it is now clear in Australia that:

  • a page or wall owner can be responsible for publication of content on its pages by others when it knows of that publication and does nothing to remove it
  • the Facebook page of a business is a marketing communication tool over which the owner has a reasonable degree of control, and therefore an advertising or marketing communication on that page is covered by the Australian Advertising Code. This is because Facebook provides the tools to effectively moderate the page
  • The Code not only covers material published by the brand, but also to comments and material published on the page by friends or fans of the brand
  • whilst the tone and the audience of the page and brand will be taken into account, it will not be fully determinative of the standards that will apply in that community. Comments which are offensive, such as anti-women or anti-homosexual even for a brand whose marketing is tongue in cheek and full of larrikinism, will still be considered offensive and the brand responsible for them
  • brands need to monitor and moderate their online spaces regularly and remove any offensive material within a reasonable time.

The lesson for brands and businesses is that they must manage the user generated content (UGC) that appears on their pages as actively as they manage their own. Traditionally, big corporates have compliance teams vetting their content before publication. The rise of UGC adds a whole different dimension as the brands don’t know about it until after publication. Vigilance and pro activity is the key to staying on the right side of the legal and reputational line. Online moderation is now a profession and is not for the faint hearted or those short of time.

Now, all this talk of legal liability has made me hungry. Surely, it’s time for a Big Mac.

* See Australian Consumer and Competition Commission v Allergy Pathway Pty Limited (No.2) [2011] FCA 74 and

Advertising Standards Bureau Case Report, Case Number 0271/12, Advertiser: Foster’s Australia, Asia  & Pacific (11 July 2012)

This blog post is for discussion purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please see a legal professional to obtain specific advice in relation to your individual circumstances.

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