[By Brian Last]

The Founder is to McDonald’s what The Social Network was to Facebook. Recalling the tagline, “you don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies,” well, you don’t get to 100 billion served without stepping on the little guy either.

The Founder tells the story of a struggling but persistent salesman, Ray Kroc (played by Michael Keaton), who finally strikes gold and begins his journey to taking over and building the world’s largest fast-food chain. Cutthroat business ethics and some leaps of faith on behalf of Kroc turned this small but popular hamburger stand in San Bernardino, California into the billionaire burger juggernaut as it’s known today. The film portrays Kroc as profit-hungry and controlling in comparison to his “partners”, the McDonald brothers, who he eventually forces out of the company.

McDonald’s has one of the most recognizable logos in the world. However, the brand is not immune to attack. In 2004, Morgan Spurlock made a documentary that stated the obvious: if you eat McDonald’s for a month, you will gain weight. The documentary achieved its objective when people began to avoid McDonald’s. The chain proved its resilience by listening to customer’s needs and introducing a healthy menu.

With The Founder digging up dirty laundry on the franchise’s colourful history, how will McDonald’s PR team respond? Will they own it, bury it or launch a campaign to reinforce McDonald’s as a company who cares about its customers?

An article on PR News Online makes an interesting point: trying to bury the past will only suggest to the public that you have something to hide. Following the release of The Founder, it appears McDonald’s is going to steer into the skid and ride it out.

If McDonald’s wanted to, it could have filed legal action to stop the movie but a PR firestorm would have unleashed if the attempt were made public. McDonald’s would have had to spend more time answering questions and focusing on ways to bounce back.

In a way, the film is free advertising for McDonald’s and will likely leave viewers craving a burger.

(Photo by Brian Last)