A lawsuit seeking class-action status alleges McDonald’s and Wendy’s deceptively advertised the size of their burgers. The lawsuit claims the restaurant companies use undercooked meat in their advertisements to make the burgers appear larger than the ones served in their restaurants. The lawsuit also alleges Wendy’s exaggerates the amount of toppings. Burger King was hit with a similar lawsuit earlier this year.
What is deceptive advertising?
The product claims in ads must be honest and truthful. When companies engage in deceptive practices, whether it’s done intentionally or recklessly, charges of fraud may follow. In general, fraud refers to any purposeful communication that deceives, manipulates, or conceals facts to give a false impression. Fraud is considered a crime.
In this particular case, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Burger King are accused of defrauding customers by making the burgers in their advertisements appear larger than they actually are in the restaurants. Since meat shrinks when it’s cooked, the lawsuit claims the restaurants rely on undercooked patties for a more appealing photo. The complaint quotes a food stylist who has worked for McDonald’s previously, saying that undercooked patties look more appetizing.
While the size of the burgers may seem trivial to some, the complaint points out that due to inflation, food and meat prices are higher than ever, and many consumers are struggling financially. Even McDonald’s CEO has acknowledged that lower-income consumers may be experiencing increased value sensitivity due to rising costs.
The FTC vs. class-action lawsuits
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a bipartisan agency of the United States government charged with protecting consumers and enforcing antitrust laws. The agency attempts to curb false advertising, misleading pricing, and deceptive packaging and labeling.
The FTC, however, rarely fines companies. The FTC will first request that the offending company stop the questionable practice. If the company continues to ignore the FTC, the agency can seek civil penalties in court. For this reason, many people find class-action lawsuits to be a powerful tool for punishing companies.
This particular lawsuit comes with a $50 million price tag. In a class-action suit, the person filing the lawsuit invites other people who were wronged the join the lawsuit. If McDonald’s and Wendy’s are found guilty, the money would be shared among the group, minus legal fees. While the person filing the lawsuit does not stand to make much, if any, money from this legal action, it could serve to hold fast-food restaurants accountable for deceptive advertising.
In the Classroom
This article can be used to discuss promotion strategy (Chapter 12: Dimensions of Marketing Strategy).
What is deceptive advertising?
Describe the Federal Trade Commission’s role in addressing deceptive advertising.
In your opinion, have these fast-food restaurants done anything wrong?
This article was developed with the support of Kelsey Reddick for and under the direction of O.C. Ferrell, Linda Ferrell, and Geoff Hirt.
Allison Prang, "Where’s the Beef? New Lawsuit Asks McDonald’s and Wendy’s That Very Question," The Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/mcdonalds-wendys-accused-of-making-burgers-seem-larger-than-they-actually-are-11652890799
Cailian Savage, "McDonald’s Is Being Sued For $50 Million Because Their Burgers Look Too Good," Medium, May 22, 2022, https://medium.com/@cailiansavage1/mcdonalds-is-being-sued-for-50-million-because-their-burgers-look-too-good-5e869b924b2b
Jonathan Stempel, "Where’s the Beef? McDonald's, Wendy’s Are Sued Over Burger Sizes," Reuters, May 18, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/business/retail-consumer/wheres-beef-mcdonalds-wendys-are-sued-over-burger-sizes-2022-05-17/