There is a heat wave sizzling across the country, and the McDonald's brand has been sunburned. In New York City, workers walked out in protest after a coworker fainted from heat exhaustion. The air conditioner in the Washington Heights restaurant had been broken, and employees estimated that the temperature of the kitchen reached 110 degrees.
This fiasco comes after McDonald's has already been feeling heat for the budgeting advice the company co-published with Visa. The most notable takeaway advice was to have a second job and that heat is not a necessity. And neither, as it turns out, is air conditioning.
McDonald's is far from the only company the media has maligned for its treatment of employees. Walmart's relationship with its employees has been the subject of numerous news articles, books, and documentaries. Almost every large successful corporation has made an employee treatment blunder and had to face journalistic backlash. It makes a good narrative: Large faceless company and the little guy just trying to get by.
It is a good narrative, but it is bad for business branding. Advertising is no longer just a few print ads and a press release from corporate. The image of a brand can be built up or destroyed by employees and consumers. Employees are brand ambassadors. In the age of the Internet, it is especially pertinent to foster a positive relationship with employees. The Internet offers anonymity and a large audience — useful tools for dissatisfied employees to tarnish their employer's image. The Internet also allows consumers to band together to spurn brands that do not align with their values. Information is quickly dispersed, and it is difficult to address brand-negative events before the consumer has formed an opinion. The actions of a company matter just as much, if not more, than the messaging.
Remember, the 99% is the majority. Employees and consumers may unite if they feel a company is taking advantage of the “little guy,” and the media loves villains. So the best way for a brand to avoid a villainous image is to not act like villains in the first place.