Thursday, 3 May 2007

Ethical Business Dilemma of the Month

Should Innocent be in bed with McDonalds?

Here's the link to burger or not to burger

The arguments on both sides are put forcibly in the huge blog debate happening at the innocent site.

It fascinates me from a brand semiotics point of view; innocent is so idealised people think they are literally saints, whereas of course yes they are very nice and try to do some good, but make a virtue of not being perfect, just trying their best. It's the image which is at stake here; it is so easy for idealised brands and initiatives to get denigrated for not being perfect from every angle. Witness the Anya Hindmarch bag backlash last week. there's stuff in here which comes straight from the anthropology of religion (purity, sacred and profane, taboos...)

But that's actually a red herring, ethics isnt about how things look its about really thinking things through, looking at it from all angles and doing the right thing based upon your own criteria and judgements, even if you know it might be unpopular or not look very 'cool'. innocent have said yes because they want more fruit in kids diets.

It's also the bit of business which is political as well as commercial and cultural. There has been a running battle with McDonalds on the anti-corporate side for over a decade; eg the McLibel case. They are literally hated and reviled in some quarters. On the other hand others will point to McDonalds doing positive work on CSR, serving the odd salad and so on. The reason they dont use polestyrene packaging any more is that they switched to a better material for eco reasons. No company is all bad, just as no company is all good. But there is a definite anti-McD tendency. From that pov it is asking for trouble.

(Declaration of interest; yes I know innocent and have worked with them. I havent talked to them about this issue but look forward to doing so when I get a chance.)


Kevin said...

fascinating issue - was interested in Richard's Reed's comments on pm on R4 that he was interested in doing the right thing, not the thing that LOOKS RIGHT. So, getting fruit into kids trumps offending some innocent fans (see some innocent blog comments) who think McD is evil incarnate.

Interesting too to speculate what the 'innocent effect' on McD might be. innocent big on transparency as well as light footprint, 10% to charity etc

Of course, for this to go anywhere, Geordies have to buy enough £2.19 Happy Meals with innocent smoothies for kids.

More discussion on this issue at

Amelia said...

This is such a fascinating and obviously emotional issue for many. I posted about it a few days ago and the debate it has generated has been incredible.

I'd love you to read the comments, I really do think that it's been a great discussion.


John Grant said...

Hi Amelia, yes I thought the discussion on your site was great, I particularly liked Richard Reed's contribution/quote & the response to that was very interesting in terms of them thinking about how to speak about the issue. Coincidentally I am popping over to fruit towers this afternoon, so if they havent seen it I'll point it out :J