April 9, 2012

McDonald’s Australia grills itself, comes out smelling … OK

Posted by: in North America

There’s a lot being written about the trend toward brands offering up warts-and-all glimpses behind the scenes or bleeding heart Twitter mea culpas. In Australia, McDonald’s has taken this to a new realm: A long-form piece of branded content titled McDonald’s Gets Grilled, which aired on Channel Seven, aimed to address concerns that its fast food is produced through horrific industrial methods (think the recent pink slime scare). Produced by an independent company that says it insisted on editorial control, the show follows six everyday Australians touring McDonald’s operations (from farm to factory to retail), sometimes asking challenging questions.

The show’s senior producer says McDonald’s execs “squirmed quite a lot” upon seeing the program, and on the face of it, McDonald’s appears to have been quite open with their methods and presented potentially unsettling practices along with their more reassuring and familiar methods. Some viewers were unswayed (judging by a few reader comments), and various observers dismissed the objectivity on view. Nonetheless, the program actually won its time slot nationally, perhaps pointing to the demand for fuller disclosure, or at least a desire to see brands “unwrap the process,” one of our 100 Things to Watch in 2012.

As a follow-up, McDonald’s in Australia says it will launch two programs later this year that further unwrap the process. Members of the public will have a chance to become “Quality Scouts” and, like the documentary participants, gain access to the supply chain and restaurants. And an Open Doors Program will let anyone take a tour behind the scenes at a restaurant or even a supplier facility. The company also set up a FAQ page to answer questions about the show, from how it was made and funded to specific issues raised by the program (why sugar is added to french fries, why phosphates are added to chicken, etc.).

Image credit: mumbrella.com.au

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Things to Watch

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    Since we spotlighted the “emoji explosion” in Do You Speak Visual?, one of our 10 Trends for 2014, the tiny pictographs have only picked up in popularity. The Wall Street Journal got into the game with a tool that translates headlines into emoji, while Yelp’s mobile app now lets users search using emoji (an Italian flag, for instance, brings up a list of Italian restaurants). Twitter recently added emoji support for Web users (well after the White House started adding emoji to Tweets). The cute icons take a dark turn in video and print ads from PETA that depict cruelty to animals. Meanwhile, Apple has responded to complaints by pledging to make emoji characters more racially diverse. —Marian Berelowitz

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  • Uniqlo, H&M and Retail As the Third Space
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    The secure-communication app Wickr is offering up to $100,000 to any hacker who can crack its defenses and is selling a suite of six privacy features to developers and apps like Snapchat and WhatsApp. Another such app, Telegram, offers a bounty as high as $200,000 to anyone who can crack it. Meanwhile, the upcoming Blackphone is described as “the world’s first smartphone which places privacy and control directly in the hands of its users.” —Ann Mack

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    IBM has been promoting the commercial applications of Watson, its artificial intelligence service, with CEO Ginni Rometty announcing a Watson challenge for mobile developers at the recent Mobile World Congress. Rometty also noted that North Face is testing a website that incorporates Watson intelligence to answer customer queries, as seen in this video of an IBM demo at the MWC. Watson could serve as a “personal shopping concierge” for e-commerce brands, as Ad Age put it.

    At this week’s SXSW in Austin, where IBM has Watson powering a food truck to demonstrate its multifaceted potential, an IBM exec talked up Watson’s potential in the customer-service arena. We’re seeing the beginnings of a world where artificial intelligence powers (and personalizes) an array of brand interactions with consumers. —Marian Berelowitz

     

  • Spritz
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    Slate may have to adjust the Minutes to Read feature on its articles. In line with our Age of Impatience trend for 2014, Spritz is a new reading app that uses a new visual technology to help people read at Evelyn Wood speeds or faster.

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    Sprtiz will be available on Samsung’s new line of wearable technology. —Aaron Baar

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  • Virtual fitting rooms
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    PhiSix, a 3D virtual technology company recently acquired by eBay, plans to bring more of the outside world into physical stores’ dressing rooms in an effort to increase sales. We’ve reported before on websites that offer 3D virtual try-ons at home and brick-and-mortar stores that have become living, breathing websites. But PhiSix’s technology takes the virtual fashion experience one step further, allowing shoppers to see how specific items of clothing look on them, in a variety of sizes and contexts, without actually trying them on. With PhiSix’s computer graphics, which will be made available to third-party retailers, shoppers will be able to enter a store dressing room and view themselves wearing clothing in a number of active settings (e.g., swinging a golf club, walking down the street). The technology also recommends other items to consumers, based on a few basic measurement inputs. Although virtual try-on technologies, which have existed for a while, haven’t succeeded in displacing trying on actual clothing, PhiSix’s sexy timesaver may draw more shoppers into physical retail outlets. —Alec Foege

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    The U.K.’s Daily Mail, whose digital content is dominated by photographs, is planning to release an app called Just the Pictures that strips out the text for smartphone readers—or non-readers, in this case—who are looking for snackable content while on the go. At a Mobile World Congress panel in Barcelona, Melanie Scott of the Mail Online said the app will be out in March. Per Scott, the Daily Mail’s current iOS app attracts about a million daily users in the U.K., and they’re opening it four or five times a day for 12 minutes at a time, largely for the pictures. 

    Just the Pictures is another sign of images replacing words in our increasingly visual culture, one of our 10 Trends for 2014. For more on how this trend is affecting the mobile platform, watch for our annual mobile-trends report in April. —Marian Berelowitz

    Image credit: Daily Mail

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