Steve Liebmann introduces us to a documentary mystery...

“McDonald’s have funded the following independently produced program ‘McDonald’s Gets Grilled’.”

If the disclaimer didn’t set you straight, then by the introduction of the premise you should have guess this was one big ad. And WHAT an ad! Take six sceptics from the general public, heavily vetted and pre-screened, and present them with what is essentially a cooking program premise. Then spin the tables on them by telling them they are responsible for ‘investigating’ McDonald’s Australia to see how they really measure up to market expectations.

Host Steve Liebmann insisted in his intro it was a “bold experiment, one which will rock the fast food industry.” An independent production company (in this case, WTFN) were commissioned to create the show and “challenge the long-held prejudices” about the quality and standards by which McDonald’s Australia holds itself to. “The participants were all volunteers, and were asked to be involved in a documentary about food”. There’s at least three things wrong with that last sentence, too.

It was anything but. A delightful piece of advertorial content at best; hard-core propaganda at worst. Certainly the future of television whether you’re ready for it or not. The six participants were given an opportunity to look into the various “field-to-restaurant” processes regarding the sourcing of ingredients for McDonald’s Australia and cast a critical eye over just how everything is prepared. At the end of the show the six were able to offer their questions directly to McDonald’s Australia CEO Catriona Noble, and they were then challenged to see if their thoughts about McDonald’s Australia had changed given what they learned.

What did we learn from their experience?

  • The fries are washed in sugar water (aw yeah).
  • The chickens *are* free-range… in big locked sheds.
  • The lettuce is washed in water with a hint of chlorine.
  • A strawberry thickshake contains only 4% fat – less than full cream milk. But it also has 1000% more sugar than full cream milk, so it balances out.
  • Everything that goes into McDonald’s meat/chicken products is 100% natural.
  • There’s only 2.5% fat in a McDonald’s sundae, and 0% pig fat (ripped off!).
  • The six participants were edited to largely look like idiots.

The "investigators": Steve, Rob, Eleni, Alan, Briar & Kuppy.

It was a stellar production piece from WTFN. They more than met the customer’s brief in this situation surely, and delivered 44 minutes of anything but hard-hitting journalism. Given the six participants were unpaid screened members of the general public there was never going to be a surprise visit to a farm or covert operation to see how a store really operates. It was all heavily stage-managed and presented McDonald’s Australia as a company that isn’t perfect and wants everyone to know it’s working to be better, and they make the best burgers in Australia.

“I went on Google to see what phosphates are all about,” says Eleni, a young mum and participant in the program. “What I found was high intake of foods with phosphates accelerates the signs of ageing, and can induce severe muscle and skin atrophy.” Eleni pretty much didn’t know what that all meant, but it sure offered a great opportunity to allow the program to dig deeper into the issue of phosphates used in the manufacture of McDonald’s Australia’s chicken products. After all, she’s no journalist, and it’s not like this is a bold experiment where the company will be held accountable for it’s processes.

The CEO was introduced as a “surprise” and the participants could not have been more underwhelmed. The drama and tension that was built into each reveal seemed over the top and out of place. The tone and editing was at times heavy-handed but it should be expected from a product which is 100% advertising content.

A cynic might suggest the specially prepared McResponse twitter account or website designed to answer all your questions added to the pre-determined outcome. But who’d be that cynical?

McDonald’s Gets Grilled is everything McDonald’s Australia paid WTFN to make, and they leveraged their relationship with Channel 7 to have it aired. It’s all soulless commercial television at it’s finest, and while you may cry foul at the integrity of the companies involved, they did nothing wrong. If anything it tarnished the reputation of Liebmann for becoming the mouthpiece in this most contrived pseudo-documentary, though it was good to see season one Ready, Steady, Cook host Nick Stratford still alive (a gig’s a gig, huh?). Advertorials air all the time at 3am – this was just one of the more creative ones, and it aired at 9:30pm on Monday night.

If you lined up for a hard-hitting documentary you would have been severely disappointed. If you tuned in knowing it was gonna be an hour-long ad then you would have had a lot of fun. I sure did.

Screw it – I’m going to get a cheeseburger, a strawberry shake and some sugar-fries…