Just when we were almost convinced that Adult Happy Meals would be latest serum in the health revolution (see Fast Company staffer Lucas Conley’s McMartyr blog), McDonald’s 60-year old chairman and CEO dies of a sudden heart attack over the weekend. While we of course are saddened by the human toll, our hearts equally go out to the flacks sweating away in McDonald’s PR kitchen. After months pumping out new healthy offerings like “bottled water” and “entree-sized salads” in effort to sanitize their reputation as one of the leading contributors to the “obesity epidemic,” this single event might very well nullify all their hard work.
It’s been a tough couple of years for health gurus: First, Dr. Robert Atkins, the no-carb-all-meat evangelist, died from an “accidental fall” that was later speculated to be a cover-up for a heart attack. Then Brian Maxwell, the founder of PowerBar and a former world-renown marathon runner, suddenly died of a heart attack a few months ago at the ripe young age of 51. And now McDonald’s CEO, Jim Cantalupo, who spent 28 years behind the gold arches.
While we toil over the effects of Martha Stewart’s debacle on her brand, we can’t ignore the impact of the sudden deaths of the people leading these artery-conscious companies. Sure, new product packaging, ad campaigns and some positive buzz might help these brands in the short term, but can they remain healthy when their own leaders cant? How important is it to walk the talk? How will this impact McDonald’s attempt to revise their brand?