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McDonald's Corp.'s sales have soared despite the flurry of negative publicity surrounding government probes on obesity, the low-carb diet craze and the theatrical release of "Super Size Me."

Observers credit McDonald's PR handling of those events, even as others remain skeptical that Morgan Spurlock's documentary didn't prompt McDonald's removal of its Super Size french fries cartons. At the time, McDonald's was in the swing of many menu changes for more than a year before launching its sweeping Healthy Lifestyles initiative in April.

"We were on this balanced lifestyle strategy, I recall, way before this movie came out," says Wendy Cook, VP-U.S. menu innovation and marketing. "Even things like the elimination of the Super Size fries were well in the works way before that movie came out." Throughout the publicity fallout, McDonald's maintained a responsibility message.

"A big part of it was getting the message out that this guy was using irresponsible behavior, and he took it to the absolute extreme," a spokeswoman says.

"Whatever the message, as ambiguous as it was in that movie, it clearly did not have a negative impact on ... the fact that customers saw in the last 18 months even more reasons to come back to McDonald's," says a spokesman.

"Since the early '50s they've done so many things for the community and done so many things right," says Clarke Caywood, PR professor at Northwestern University. McDonald's has "addressed environmental concerns, safety and nutritional concerns, so the public really loves them and will give them the benefit of the doubt."

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