Return to Cases CONSUMER BEHAVIOR: A FRAMEWORK CHAPTER 16 CASE McDONALD=S IN THE INTERNET McSPOTLIGHT The degree of business concern with social responsibility issues has ebbed and flowed during the past thirty years. Corporate concerns have mirrored fluctuations from the politically active 1960s, through the consumer movement of the 1970s, into decline in the acquisitiondominated 1980s, and re-emergence in the rapid communication environment of the 1990s. Today, new communication tools are making social responsibility a major planning challenge for businesses. When activists first began challenging the societal role of business, the tools available to them were limited and in most cases permitted only local efforts to pressure corporations to adopt a desired stance toward specific social responsibility issues. Unless an issue was perceived to affect the country as a whole, mass media was not readily a partner in the battles between corporations and special interest groups. Perhaps reactions to the nuclear power industry following the Three Mile Island incident in the 1970s or boycotts and condemnations of Exxon Corporation that followed the Exxon Valdez accident in the 1980s are among the last successful national advocacy campaigns directed at American business. Since then, most of the social responsibility battles have been local skirmishes, such as the efforts to save old growth forest in the Northwest and the blind cave pup fish in Texas. These efforts have failed to attract national exposure. New communication tools may be changing the isolation of social responsibility clashes. With the expansion of the Internet and its connection to a large percentage of the international population, activists now can mount a social responsibility attack anywhere in the world and of whatever magnitude they are willing to spend the time and effort to create. The Internet now reaches millions of Asurfers@ in virtually every industrialized and emerging nation in the world - even the Catholic church in Brazil is offering free access to the Web (www.Catolico.com.br). Setting up an Internet site for distribution of cause information is relatively inexpensive. A World Wide Web server can be purchased and loaded with the software needed for about $2,000. In 1986, two activists in England objected to the arrival of McDonald=s in their country. They printed a six-page fact sheet to inform anyone they could get to listen about their perceptions of McDonalds= wrongdoing related to corporate social responsibility. This incident would likely have remained a local skirmish, but McDonald=s England sued the pair for libel. By its end in 1997, the trial had become the longest running court case in English history. The case was dubbed AMcLibel@ (www.McSpotlight.org). The McSpotlight site asked for others who had problems with McDonald=s to contribute information about their concerns and it even includes a debating room for real-time discussions of issues. The very slicklydone Web site now houses more than 1600 files of McDonalds= alleged social irresponsibility. Among other things, the Website has been supplemented by a 60-minute documentary. The site is also used to connect viewers to sites about other social responsibility concerns, such as the oil industry, pharmaceuticals, and baby milk. On the other hand, McDonald=s corporate headquarters established its own Web site (www.McDonalds.com). Although the site contains typical corporate files including investor and franchising information, the site also contains a kids= section outfitted with animated pictures (at the time it was prepared, this was not an easy process to build into Web pages), coloring books, and other information targeted at younger Web surfers. Also, the site contains a section devoted to McDonalds= community social responsibility. In fact, the link to these pages is plainly labeled Asocial responsibility.@ Since no one controls or polices content on the World Wide Web, information placed on a Web site is not reviewed for accuracy by anyone but the site=s Web master or reviewers asked to examine the material as a part of organizational policy. Information advocating views on social issues no longer receives scrutiny by media editors concerning its appropriateness, accuracy, and legality before presentation to mass media audiences. With the Internet, content can be published without editorial review. Diligent promoters placing their site=s address on directories and accessible to search engines can garner 100,000 hits per month or more following only a few days of promotional activity. Questions: 1. Define the problems faced by businesses given the possibility of Internet attack on social responsibility issues. 2. Discuss the consumer behavior concepts from the chapter that apply to the case. 3. Using the PERMS approach, develop managerial strategies for an internet retail business. References: 1. This case was written by David L. Sturges and updated by the second author. 2. Based on McDonalds (n.d./2000), AMcDonalds Corporation@ (www.mcdonalds.com); McSpotlight (n.d./2000). AMcInformation Network@, (www.McSpotlight.org): Robin Frost, AWeb=s Heavy U.S. Accent Grates on Overseas Ears,@ The Wall Street Journal, September 26, 1996, pp. B6, B8; and Geoff Dyer, ABrazil=s Evangelists Open the Portals of Heaven,@ The Financial Times, February 12/13, 2000, p. 4.