McDonald's recently posted a statement on its website, soon after a recent TikTok video featuring its food has gone viral. The video shows a woman's reveal of a McDonald's hamburger and fries she claims has been in her closet for more than 20 years--without rotting or decomposing.

There's only one problem: the way McDonald's responded doesn't exactly inspire confidence in its food.

The statement, entitled "Response to myth that McDonald's burgers do not decompose," is pretty bad. Just check out the first line:

"In the right environment, our burgers, like most other foods, could decompose."

Emphasis on the word "could."


Sadly, McDonald's missed a major opportunity to change the narrative around its food. What we got instead was an epic fail: a half-hearted attempt that wasn't very well thought through.

Let's break down what makes the fast food giant's statement such a disaster, and pick out some lessons learned.

What are the chances?

First, some context. We all know that McDonald's doesn't have a great reputation for making nutritious food. But this TikTok is just the most recent of a long line of viral videos where people show McDonald's food that looks remarkably unchanged, even after years. (Just check out this one from back in 2013.)

Now, let's go back to that first line, this time with italics added:

"In the right environment, our burgers, like most other foods, could decompose."


In other words, McDonald's is telling us that in the right environment, you know, one where basically any other normal food on earth would decompose, the company still isn't sure if its food would.

What are the chances, I wonder? 

Are they one out of a hundred? Or more like one out of a million?

To make matters worse, McDonald's then feels the need to lecture readers regarding the scientific conditions needed for decomposition.

"In order to decompose," says the statement, "you need certain conditions--specifically moisture. Without sufficient moisture--either in the food itself or the environment--bacteria and mold may not grow and therefore, decomposition is unlikely."

The company goes on to explain that if food is (or becomes) dry enough, it's unlikely to grow mold or decompose. "Food prepared at home that is left to dehydrate could see similar results," says McDonald's. 

Of course, most who have graduated elementary school know that mold needs moisture to grow. But McDonald's makes a fatal mistake is comparing its food with a home cooked meal. To which I ask, when is the last time you left food out for more than a couple of days and it didn't look and smell like something you couldn't wait to get out of your kitchen?

If you're a business owner, or working with biz communications, there are plenty of lessons to learn from the McDonald's PR fail. I highlight these lessons in my book, EQ Applied, which shows how to use emotional intelligence--the power of understanding and managing emotions--to persuade and influence others. 

Here's how emotional intelligence could have improved the McDonald's communication:

Provide evidence your readers are likely to respect.

McDonald's makes an attempt to do this at the end of their statement, when it claims that its burgers "are made only with 100% USDA inspected beef," and that there are "no preservatives or fillers in our patties and the only thing ever added is a touch of salt and pepper on the grill." But at this point, these sentences are an afterthought. 

Instead, imagine if McDonald's had led with this statement? What if the company had shared pictures or video of its burger prep process, showcasing fresh, moist burgers coming off the grill?

At the very least, this would have inspired some different mental images of McDonald's food, instead of the old, dried out versions we are left with.

Use illustrations and the power of storytelling.

Scientific explanations are important, but used alone (or badly), they're boring and ineffective. 

In contrast, everyone loves a great story--and a bit of humor. Imagine if McDonald's had poked fun at how their burgers used to be, when they likely used tons of preservatives (like most other fast food restaurants), and then contrasted that with more improved methods from today?

Don't just recount the facts; find a way to bring them to life. 

Show some passion.

The McDonald's statement is flat. It's only seven sentences long, and doesn't exactly inspire the reader.

But remember, enthusiasm is contagious. If you truly believe in your product, your passion will come across naturally and can influence others.

After all, if you can't get enthusiastic about your product, how will anyone else?

To be sure, all of these methods involve time and effort--much more time and effort than it takes to throw together a quick corporate statement. But that investment will be well-spent, because it enables you to take control of the narrative surrounding your company, and can help you to actually reach your audience on an emotional level.

Maybe McDonald's will seize the next opportunity. After all, it shouldn't be long until another 20-year-old burger goes viral.