Dear McDonald’s: If People Are Asking “What’s In Your Burger?” You’ve Already Lost

Unless you’ve completely managed to avoid live TV in the last week, you’ve probably seen the McDonald’s ad with footage from its public “question box,” where regular consumers ask the fast food company embarrassing questions. McDonald’s intends to use these ads as a platform for bringing the truth to the masses, but what it completely overlooks is that the real problem is the fact that people are asking these questions to begin with.

The longform version of the ad, shown above, includes questions that we can’t imagine people asking of any other major fast food company, like:

• “Does McDonald’s even sell real food?”

• “What’s in your chicken nuggets?”

• “What is really in your beef?”

• “What’s in your hamburger?”


• “I’ve read that there is horse meat in your food.”

McDonald’s, with the help of recently laid-off Mythbusters co-star Grant Imahara, is trying to answer these questions with interviews of McDonald’s staffers and behind-the-scenes footage at its food production facilities.

That’s all well and good, but it ultimately won’t do much to change people’s minds about McDonald’s.

McDonald’s loudest skeptics and critics aren’t going to be convinced they are mistaken because the company paid the robot-building guy from a basic cable show to appear in videos declaring that the rumors are untrue.


Like the decades-old false claim that Twinkies can sit on store shelves for years and will outlast a nuclear explosion, there are numerous myths and muddied facts about what’s in McDonald’s food. And just like the Twinkie tale, simply telling the public that it’s not true isn’t going to erase these stories from our cultural memory.

For example, there’s the often-told story of how McDonald’s burgers and fries contain some sort of chemical that prevents them from rotting. This isn’t true, and it’s been proven that any well-done, thin hamburger will likely also dry up and resist rot over time; or that even a McDonald’s burger kept in a moist, warm environment will eventually rot and mold over.

Yet people still occasionally trot out old Happy Meals that look vaguely edible years later, and they will continue to do so regardless of this ad campaign.

Likewise, people will continue to ask “What part of a chicken does the McNugget come from?” (or change that up by inserting “pig” and “McRib” in the appropriate places).


Folks only ask “What’s in your burger?” for one of two reasons — either because it’s so good they want to know the secret, or because they genuinely question whether or not they are eating beef.

It comes down to this: If people even think there’s a scintilla of truth to the rumors and stories they’ve heard — or if they know they won’t have those same questions if they go across the street to a competing eatery — they won’t be loyal McDonald’s customers.

And survey after survey shows that people don’t think very much of McDonald’s food or the service.

In the most recent survey from our colleagues at Consumer Reports, the taste of McDonald’s food came in dead last, not just among the 21 burger chains included, but of all 52 fast food chains in the entire survey, regardless of food category.

As CR noted in its write-up of those ratings, McDonald’s pledge that its burgers are free of “preservatives, fillers, extenders, and so-called pink slime” is “hardly a rousing endorsement.”


And it’s not just the food; McDonald’s has brought up the rear of the American Customer Satisfaction Index scores for fast food restaurants for years.

At the same time, consumers have grown more aware, not just of things like carbs, sodium, and saturated fat, but of how easy it is to improve even a fast food burger with better ingredients. Some of McDonald’s national competition — most notably Wendy’s — has taken note of this, and there are any number of regional chains making quality burgers waiting in the wings to take McDonald’s customers away.

Perhaps McDonald’s can learn from Domino’s Pizza, which fell on its own sword in 2010 and publicly admitted that its pizza was not good. The company promised to do better and revamped its recipes.

Some didn’t like the new Domino’s, but the humility combined with these menu changes did work to help turn the company’s image around.

But McDonald’s needs to know that telling the public, “You’re all wrong and you shouldn’t believe what you hear or read,” isn’t going to win many people over, especially when the menu remains the same.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.