A week after Thailand's military staged a coup, deposing the civilian government and arresting top leaders and democracy activists, the McDonald's Corporation has taken a bold stand for neutrality.
Thai protesters opposed to the coup had taken to rallying outside of a McDonald's that happens to be centrally located in downtown Bangkok. The association led to what marketers might call organic brand extension, with Thais using McDonald's arches on their Facebook pages and elsewhere as a symbol of their movement to end military rule and return to democracy. Often, the activists do this with images replacing the m in democracy with the McDonald's logo.
The McDonald's Corporation did not appreciate this unsolicited co-option of their logo to signify democracy and peaceful resistance in the face of authoritarianism. Democracy and peace are fine, sure, but the government signs the checks and the delivers the permits, and right now that government sort of opposes peace and democracy.
McDonalds' Thailand chain posted a message to its official Facebook page, warning in Thai and English that any democracy activist who uses their logo or had used it in the past must "cease and refrain from doing so with immediate effect." The company explained to the Associated Press that this was in line with their "neutral stance" on the "current political situation." (The current political situation is there was a military coup.)
The official message went on to warn, in what certainly sounds like a legal threat, that McDonald's would "take appropriate measures to protect our rights under the law" against any Thai democracy activists who used their logo in pursuit of democracy and human rights against military dictatorship. Apparently McDonald's, a multi-national mega-corporation worth $97 billion dollars, feels that its corporate interests are being threatened by democracy activists to the point that lawsuits may become appropriate.
Here's their full message in English:
It has come to our attention that certain persons have recently used the McDonald's logo, symbol and trademark through several social media and we believe that such acts may have purportedly been carried out for the purposes of furthering certain political interests.
We hereby wish to place on formal record that such aforesaid use of the McDonald's logo, symbol and trademark was carried out without any participation, authorisation, acceptance or endorsement whatsoever on the part of McThai Co., Ltd.
We emphasise that we have no connection whatsoever with such aforesaid actions, and wish to clarify that McThai has and continues to maintain a neutral stance in the current political situation in Thailand.
We wish to request any person who has, in the past, or intends, in the future to use the McDonald's logo, symbol or trademark, to cease and refrain from doing so with immediate effect. We reserve the right to take appropriate measures to protect our rights under the law.
We appreciate your cooperation on this matter.
The great irony in all this, as @M_C_Kucuk points out on Twitter, is that McDonald's has long been associated by international relations scholars with democracy and peace. Something called the "McDonald's peace theory" states that no two countries with a McDonald's will ever go to war. The logic is that any country that has a McDonald's is probably democratic and middle-income: democracies very rarely if ever fight wars with one another; neither do middle-income countries. The theory actually fell apart with the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, both of which have the food chain. But with McDonald's now positioning itself as officially neutral on the merits of democracy versus military coups, maybe it's time to formally kill this theory.