PR Roundup: McDonald’s Too Expensive, New AI Guidelines, and the Best Super Bowl Activation We’ve Seen Yet

Customers are not happy with the increase in McDonald's Big Mac, fries and other menu items

This week's PR Roundup looks at customers pushing back on McDonald's rising prices, the PR Council's latest update to their AI guidelines, and a chapel in Las Vegas looks to marry the most famous couple of the year on Super Bowl Sunday.

McDonald’s Price Hikes Irritating Customers

What happened: Inflation has hit almost every piece of the economy. It’s not just car prices and groceries, but now, it’s also come for your Big Macs. And Americans are not happy about it. And when Americans are not happy about something in retail, they vote with their wallets.

On a McDonald’s earnings call this week the company reported lower than expected sales, prompting acknowledgement from the CEO and CFO about weakening purchase power at the elevated price points. According to Business Insider, McDonald’s raised menu prices 10 percent in 2023. It made a similar move in 2022 as well.

This, unfortunately for the golden arches, has spurned backlash on social media. An entire TikTok genre is dedicated to high priced menu items, such as an $18 Big Mac meal in Darien, Conn. and $3 hash brown patties. One TikToker expresses his anguish at the price of a medium french fry being more than a Filet-o-Fish sandwich.

@hugesnlfan #stitch with @groupchatnews mcdonalds needs to get thier franchisees under control. #mcdonalds  ##greenscreensticker ♬ original sound - Stephen LeFranc

Of course, CEO Chris Kempczinski also addressed this “affordability” problem on the earnings call and said price cuts were coming for some menu items, according to CNN.

Communication takeaways: Here we are with another example of inflation pricing no longer working for the public. Nathan Miller, CEO, Miller Ink says allowing prices to get so high, so quickly, fundamentally undermined the core value proposition McDonalds offers its customers.”

“I think that the McDonald’s CEO’s approach to describing the company’s pivot could have been better,” Miller says. “First they need to acknowledge that people see the cost increases as a breach of trust. They need to re-establish that trust with customers, and spark the deep emotional connection that many have with the brand.”

Miller also says Kempczinski approached the topic of affordability in a “vacuum.”

“I would have focused [instead] on re-engaging customers around the core value proposition of the McDonald’s experience for customers—which is quick, convenient, great tasting food at great prices. That framing feels less defensive, and more positive.”

PR Council Updates Ethical Guidelines on Generative AI Tools

What happened: This week the PR Council shared its updated Guidelines on Generative AI Tools. Since its publication in April 2023, generative AI tools for the communications industry have evolved significantly with some agencies moving from cautious experimentation to tactical implementation and even strategic adoption. The latest revision includes an overview of the current state of AI, common use cases across agencies and guidance on disclosure to clients, employee training and more.

The main updates include:

  • Creatives embrace generative AI, especially tools such as Adobe’s Firefly and Getty Images’ generative AI engine, for a range of use cases, but all agree none should be presented as final product to clients. Caution about copyright and trademark issues abound, and creatives agree that human genius is required to create unique, on-strategy outputs.

  • Agencies and clients need clearly articulated policies about the use of generative AI, including transparency requirements. This need extends to all vendors, including influencer or creator relationships.

  • While the large language models are working to eliminate hallucinations (inaccurate or misleading AI results), proper sourcing is still necessary and remains a critical skill for all agency professionals.

  • The leading generative AI platforms report security progress but the Council continues to advise caution when inputting confidential client information, due to mistrust of promised confidentiality measures.

  • The opportunity for bias is likely to always be an issue with the output of generative AI tools, so following a checklist to remove bias is important.

Communication takeaways: According to task force co-chair Mark McClennan, General Manager, C+C and Ethical Voices podcast creator, while core PR ethics principles should not change, actionable guidelines need to evolve with the industry.

“One of the areas of rapid AI evolution has been developments with generative AI in enterprise software such as Adobe’s Firefly and how agencies are using generative AI to create visual outputs,” McClennan says. “We convened a focus group with agency creative directors along with a cross-disciplinary team of experts in ethics, corporate reputation, digital and DEI to update the guidance to deal with today’s reality.”

Anne Green, CEO, G&S Business Communications and co-chair of the Council's Ethics and Standards task force, says they are hearing positive feedback regarding AI tools, but that a human touch is still necessary.

“We are hearing more optimism about how these tools, when paired with human ingenuity, can improve our work and eliminate certain mundane or time-consuming tasks,” Green says. "[However], it is still difficult to foresee a time when these platforms and tools can produce unique and fully client-ready outputs totally free of issues with no human engagement or review."

The Sweetest Super Bowl Campaign

What happened: We’ve seen our share of Super Bowl campaign pitches this week. However, the one really takes the (wedding) cake.

Las Vegas wedding chapel, Chapel of the Flowers, announced it will offer free wedding ceremonies to any couples named Taylor and Travis on Super Bowl Sunday. Unless you are living in an underground cave, you may have heard that Kansas City Chiefs tight end, Travis Kelce, will be playing in the Super Bowl on Sunday, and his girlfriend, pop-star and ginormous global celebrity, Taylor Swift, will be in attendance.

Of course, chapel officials also noted Swift and Kelce are more than welcome to have a free wedding that day as well.

"We're ready to make the Big Game even bigger for Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce with a wedding in one of our famous chapels,” says chapel CEO Donne Kerestic. “If they're game to turn their 'Big Day' into a Vegas extravaganza, we've got an aisle prepared and ready to go. Vegas weddings are the real MVP.”

Communication takeaways: This type of campaign comes as no surprise as The Taylor Swift Effect has taken over almost every corner of popular culture, and her proximity to the big game, in Las Vegas, should provoke local entities to take advantage of that namesake in creative ways.

And how big is this Swift effect? According to a recent poll conducted by YouGov for Seton Hall University, the number of respondents who said they would watch the game is up six points since last year. And 21 percent of Americans say that the presence of Taylor Swift is influencing their decision—or someone in their household—to watch the Super Bowl. That number rises to 41 percent of 18-34 year olds.

Logan Trautman, Director, Inspire PR Group, says leveraging a timely pop culture event is about identifying a place where your brand aligns naturally—in this case on a day when two mega celebrities’ names will be trending globally.

“The chapel isn’t making a significant time or financial investment to be relevant; it’s doing what it does every day: marrying two people in love!” Trautman says. “It just found a seamless way to tie it into the week’s top news.”

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal