McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) has taken the novel step of attempting to communicate honestly about its food. It's a move that's similar to what Domino's Pizza (NYSE:DPZ) did with its "Pizza Turnaround" ad campaign, but in this case, The Golden Arches is not admitting that it has a problem. Instead, the company has solicited questions from its customers which it's answering online and in television commercials.

The campaign, "Our Food. Your Questions." seeks to debunk certain myths about the chain's products -- such as how much meat is actually in the hamburgers and whether Chicken McNuggets are really made of chicken. The bold effort comes after months of steadily declining sales in the United States and mounting pressure from fast-causal brands which tout the quality of their food including Chipotle  (NYSE:CMG) and Panera Bread (NASDAQ:PNRA.DL).

The challenge for McDonald's is overcoming many years of ingrained customer experiences with and opinions on its products. Take for example this exchange from the "Burgers and Sandwiches" section of the "Our Food. Your Questions." site.

Q: Do you use so-called 'pink slime' in your burgers or beef treated with ammonia?

A: Nope. Our beef patties are made from 100% pure beef. Nothing else is added. No fillers, extenders or so-called "pink slime."

Some consumers may be familiar with the practice of using lean finely textured beef sometimes treated with ammonia, which is referred to by some as 'pink slime.' We do not use this.

That technically answers the question but it does not address the underlying issue that people are willing to believe that the company's burgers are made from some lesser material because they have eaten them. McDonald's burgers don't look or behave like the hamburgers you make at home or even the ones sold at higher-end chains like Five Guys.  

How is McDonald's doing this?
The company is building its commercials around the idea of answering the broad question "Does McDonald's even sell real food?" by breaking that topic down on a more granular level. By addressing questions like the one listed above, or "Why doesn't your food rot," the fast-food giant wants to address myths and urban legends about its food, hopefully changing public perception.
It's a big admission by the company to publicly address the idea that some people consider its products not food -- one that's similar to Domino's saying that its pizza is not very good. The major difference is that McDonald's isn't pledging to make anything better. Instead, it's more or less saying, no, really, it actually is good.
To do this, the company is taking questions over social media and soliciting them from billboards with recording devices embedded in them. The company then answers the questions on its website and in a series of commercials starring Grant Imahara, former host of Discovery Channel's MythBusters. 

Source: McDonald's 

How bad is the company doing?
U.S. same-store sales have been steadily declining. In August, the fourth straight consecutive month of declines, sales fell 2.8%, which Eshna Basu from ICRA Online pointed out was was "the nastiest drop registered by the company in more than a decade."
 The quarterly drop was even worse as in its Q3 report, McDonald's reported that U.S. comparable-sales for the quarter decreased 3.3%, "driven by negative guest traffic amid sustained competitive activity." 
Those numbers are not catastrophic, but for a company used to perpetual growth and dominance, it's troubling. 
Will this work?
McDonald's has a perception problem and honesty may help relieve consumers' qualms, but it does not address the underlying issue of food quality.  
The biggest reason the campaign may not work is that unlike the Domino's ad, the commercials don't feel genuine. Imahara does not come off in the ads as an independent investigator. He seems like a corporate shill whose investigations always result in him finding that McDonald's is just great and its products are fabulous. There's no mea culpa here, no admission that the company should be looking to improve quality.

These ads show that McDonald's does not quite get it. The company wants to be honest, but does not want to improve. The success of Chipotle, Panera, and even Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) suggests that the public wants actual quality. It's one thing to tell people your burgers are made from real beef and another entirely to improve them to the point that people no longer ask.

"Our Food. Your Questions." won't prove to be the success that Pizza Turnaround was. It may sway some fence-sitters, who just want to know the McFood is made of actual food, but if it's not paired with improvements, it won't win back customers lost to chains that put quality first.