McDonald's frantic backpedaling: The pig toy fiasco

McDonald's frantic backpedaling: The pig toy fiasco

When McDonald's decided to omit a pig from a new line of promotional soft toys, consumers got a little cheesed off
McDonald's plush toy fiasco
It's not the first time McDonald's have had problems with their toys -- remember the great Hello Kitty stampede of 2000 when at least seven people were reported injured in a queue crush that shattered a glass door?

There is such a thing as being too culturally sensitive. The Straits Times reports that fast food giant McDonald's opened up a virtual beehive in Singapore when it deliberately omitted pig characters from its latest toy promotion, earning the ire of netizens and Chinese customers.

The pig toy was suppose to be part of a 12-character Doraemon set depicting the animals of the Chinese zodiac calendar. However, management at the Golden Arches decided not to include the pig toy to avoid offending Muslim customers, and had a Doraemon Cupid toy in its place instead -- a move which seriously upset Chinese customers keen on collecting all 12 toys in the series. A flurry of irate emails and demands by collectors and customers followed, and now the fast food giant has reversed its decision, adding a pig toy back to the promotional line-up (Updated January 25, 2010).

The offending Cupid plush toy from McDonald'sThe offending cupid toy from McDonald's.

McDonald's apologizes

According to the Straits Times, the fast food chain was apologetic about the initial decision to yank the pig character. McDonald’s Restaurants communications director Linda Ming said the chain excluded the pig toy out of sensitivity for its Muslim customers and chose Cupid instead to commemorate Valentine’s Day, which coincides with the first day of the Chinese New Year this year, on Feb 14. "We seek our customers' understanding that it has never been our intention to be disrespectful towards any religion or culture."

But the damage is already done. Blogs and forums are already calling it an overreaction and experts say it showed a lack of cross-cultural understanding. Sociologist Daniel Goh said that if McDonald’s did not consult Muslim opinions before making the decision to exclude the pig toy, the company had then assumed Muslim sensibilities, which amounted to a form of self-censorship.

Dr Mohamad Maznah, a visiting senior research fellow with the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS), said to the Straits Times that she felt the restaurant was just being cautious, although she doubted the Muslim community here would have been upset if the pig toy had been included. Dr Syed Muhd Khairudin Aljunied, an assistant professor of Malay Studies at NUS, said, "Pigs and dogs are not non-halal, except when they are consumed."

Backlash from the blogsphere

Blogger Vlad Tepes posted that "this decision makes about as much sense as Afghanistan’s lone hog which has been quarantined due to fears of swine flu, a virus that the rest of the advanced world realizes is not contracted by direct contact with pigs, or the fatwa issued by Malaysian Muslim clerics against the evils of yoga."

Rajesh Chhabara wrote on the CSR Works blog that "McDonald's lack of cross-cultural understanding points to a common trend among multinational companies who often neglect to deploy corporate responsibility managers with local insight in Asia. What McDonald's should have done was to engage with the Muslim community's leadership to discuss the promotion and the dilemma it faced."

Forums have been inundated with opinions. Pappy commented on the Straits Times report that "McDonald's wrongly interprets the halal certification, and takes political correctness to the extreme to cater to the religious extremists. It not only disappoints the Chinese with its insensible decision, it also makes the vast majority of our moderate Muslims look bad."

lich_king asked why McDonald's didn't apply the same rule to the bull toy as well, as, according to McLogic, that could offend the Hindus who don't eat beef. Pauline Koh wrote in to the ST Forum, saying "In this case, the pig is one of the Chinese zodiac signs -- part of Chinese culture and customs -- and it is just a soft toy, not food. Will the sight of a Doraemon collectible pig soft toy offend anyone? Was the decision based on a recommendation from MUIS (the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore)?"

What do you think? Is this political correctness gone mad or was McDonald's justifiably cautious? Let us know.

A technology reporter and wannabe entrepreneur in a previous life, Larry is now City Editor for CNNGo Singapore, where he sacrifices his nights, caffeine intake and waistline to the demands of the job.
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