Helping a trade union to turn up the heat

Freshwater worked with trade union the BFAWU and social justice law firm, Thompsons Solicitors, to mobilise a hard-hitting campaign to take fast food giants to task over workplace safety.



impressions from social adverts


visits to campaign page


organic engagements

Specialist trade union the BFAWU is engaged in a long-running campaign to recruit new members from the fast food service industry and to help improve working conditions for people employed in the sector. As members came on board, and began to organise, the BFAWU found that in addition to being subject to known issues (like insecure work and low pay), fast food workers were also routinely at risk of workplace burns – in particular at McDonald’s restaurants.

Freshwater was brought on board by the BFAWU on the recommendation of long-term client Thompsons Solicitors to mobilise a hard-hitting campaign, and turn up the heat on the fast food giants putting workers in harm’s way.

We started work with a meeting between Freshwater, the National President of the BFAWU and a legal expert from Thompsons Solicitors in order to agree the role the campaign needed to play in the context of the union’s wider Fast Food Rights agenda, and industrial strategy.

From there, we undertook additional research with BFAWU members to get under the skin of the issue, and understand where, when, how and why workplace burns were happening – and why nothing was being done. Insight from the research phase was fed into the overarching communications strategy, informing our approach to the campaign creative, key messages and channel selection.

The research revealed that the risk of workplace burns in McDonald’s and other fast food restaurants was common knowledge among people working in fast food. Injuries were playing out behind closed doors and complaints were falling on deaf ears. Burns were seen as an inevitable part of the job that was ignored by management, rather than a serious trend of avoidable injuries that should, and could, be tackled.

We needed to challenge this perception with a compelling narrative and eye-catching campaign that shed light on the scale of the issue in the UK, sparked public criticism and encouraged workers to come forward to ask for legal advice.

We already had the support of a small number of brave individuals who had engaged with the union to share their experiences and photographs of their injuries, during the research phase.

With their permission, those arresting real-life images were put front and centre of a creative that incorporated a look and feel reminiscent of fast food chains through the careful use of fonts, iconography and colours. After a series of refinements and testing with the target audience, the McBurned campaign identity was born.

Freshwater’s experienced and creative copywriters then developed an engaging narrative and motivating set of campaign key messages. The messages needed to resonate with the target audience, and communicate in no uncertain terms the seriousness of the issue, while also being engaging. We drew on common parlance and pop culture references to demonstrate that the BFAWU “had serious beef” with McDonald’s. The agreed campaign lines and messages were captured into a ‘songsheet’ which informed all other content including web pages, blogs, digital advertising copy and organic social media.

We established a campaign landing page featuring the hard-hitting creative, frequently asked questions, and advice for how people could back the campaign. The page was enriched with downloadable resources and peppered with clear calls to action, encouraging injured workers to get in touch for advice on their rights.

Blogs and social media content – including posts, graphics and gifs – were created by Freshwater and shared through the BFAWU and Thompsons’ channels, while a launch news release helped extend awareness of the campaign by targeting key publications.

Promoted social media activity across Facebook helped to drive mass awareness of the campaign launch among users who worked in food and restaurants, aged 16 – 35, located in urban areas across the UK (as people likely to be affected by burns injuries) and users interested in activism and politics (as people likely to be interested in issues relating to workplace rights and potential advocates for the campaign).

Media relations activity secured share of voice for the campaign with leading activist publications, Hazards and UnionNews, and triggered a tweet from the HuffPost Politics Twitter feed. A combination of organic tactics including a dedicated hashtag – #McBurned, a bold tone of voice and striking real-life photography helped drive the social conversation.

Social media adverts promoting the campaign were seen 369,981 times and drove more than 3,000 visits to the campaign landing page. The paid-for campaign quickly turned viral, with high levels of organic sharing and positive engagement – in the form of tags and shares among friends and colleagues, and people posting about their own ‘McBurns’. In total, posts attracted 1,500 comments and were shared organically 225 times.

Over 30 people came forward to seek legal advice and work with the union to highlight issues in specific restaurants as a direct result of campaign activity.


BFAWU and Thompsons Solicitors

Related services

    • Campaign Planning
    • Social Media Marketing
    • Design
    • Content Marketing
    • Digital Marketing
    • Public Relations


    • Trade Union