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Brand Defiance at McDonald's

Posted by: David Kiley on December 6, 2007


To my eyes, some ideas are so horrendous, you would think the marketers sitting aroound the room contemplating it would sober up before pushing the Go-button.

This takes me to the pilot program by McDonald’s to run advertising and Happy Meal coupons on the report card covers of school kids.

If my kid came home with Ronald McDonald on his report card, I would soon become the teacher’s and principal’s worst nightmare. Now, in Ann Arbor, MI where I live, this just isn’t going to happen. Ann Arbor after all is where Whole Foods is building its second mongo store, Hummers are ticketed out of spite and there are more “Impeach Bush” signs in front yards than lawn-jockies.

But, if I lived in, say, Seminole County, Fla. (I’d have to be killed first, of course, before I lived anywhere so humid and devoid of decent restaurants) where this idea is being piloted, I’d be furious.

According to Ad Age, “McDonald’s picked up the cost $1,600 cost of printing report-card jackets for the 2007-2008 school year in Seminole in exchange for a Happy Meal coupon on the card’s cover. With 27,000 elementary school kids taking their report-card jackets home to be signed three or four times a year, that’s less than 2 cents per impression.”

Children who earn all A’s and B’s, AA reports, have two or fewer absences or exhibit good behavior are entitled to a free happy meal at a local McDonald’s — so long as they present their report card.

Here we have McDonald’s exploiting the need of many school districts to off-set costs. And at the same time many schools have all but eliminated gym class, and fail to teach proper nutrition education, they are re-affirming McDonald’s toxic effect on America’s food culture by selling an ad on their performance report.

Sorry, if I sound hysterical. But with a son who is almost six, I’m doing all I can to teach him about good food versus bad food, and the importance of exercise. And we have gone to McDonald’s maybe a half-dozen or so times in his life. The last time was over Thanksgiving weekend. We were traveling in Va., and needed a convenient stop for breakfast. he had the pancakes. I’m not making this up…he barfed in the car about two hours later, with no signs of sickness other than the food. My guess is that there is so much crap in the McD’s food that he’s not used to that it upset his stomach.

What is interesting, I think, from a brand management standpoint is what you do if your McDonald's. if you are McD's, you have product to sell, and you need to sell it to kids. Of course, they knew that people like me would go after the company for this. But McD's isn't going to say that its food is crap. They can't. It's their business. So, the strategy must be to insist that their food isn't crap by having the nerve to advertise on a report card jacket.

I don't blame McDonald's really. It's the fault of the school district for saying Yes. If McDonald's was willing to buy the ad space, I wonder if other companies with healthier products would have been willing too. How about Nike? At least that promotes exercise.

This reminds me of Hummer's efforts to show how real-life heroes depend on Hummers to help people after disasters like Hurricane Katrina. Of course, that flies in the face of the theory that Katrina may be part of a trend caused by climate change. And what contributes to unnatural climate change? Gas guzzling SUVs so terrible on fuel economy they have been exempted from posting what it the mpg is by the Federal government, which continues to be sympathetic to Americans' god-given right to drive giant gas guzzlers they don't need.

And that is the news from Ann Arbor...where all the women want hybrids and plug-ins, all the men admire Al Gore and all the children want to grow up and change the world.

Reader Comments


December 7, 2007 2:31 PM


Everyone appreciates your concern. Perhaps you could cover the costs of the report card jackets next year to save those poor children from McDonald's fare. I turned down an opportunity to relocate to Ann Arbor because of the poisonous moral and spriritual environment I found there. Metaphysically speaking, I could eat at McDonald's every day and still fare better (in the long run) most places than I would in Ann Arbor. So put on your Nike shoes, walk to Whole Foods and buy that healthy food. Perhaps by doing so you'll live long enough to live through the next 1500 year warming cycle, brought to you by Whole Solar Flares. Merry Christmas!


December 7, 2007 2:59 PM

My wife is a teacher in SC, and she tells me all the time the teachers have to use food bribes to get children to do their work. Especially since punishment is non existant, and largely depends on parental participation, which usually falls into the categories of don't care; the school is failing, not the child; and blame it on learning disabilities. So if mickey d's is offering food rewards, they're not breaking new ground here; junk food is all over schools from the cafeteria to the teacher's desk to the "holiday parties." I think the real issue is allowing advertising in schools at all, where children are a captive audience, and are supposed to be shielded from corporate marketing hacks. Would it be different if it was nike, or yoplait, or quaker oats? probably not a word, but it's all the same sin.


December 9, 2007 8:45 AM

The outrage over this article is so petty. It's ridiculous. This article sounds like McDonald's is forcing people to eat the Happy Meals, and that kids have no choice but to do so. First of all, these kids are in elementary school. If you don't want your child to eat the happy meal, don't let them! Secondly, McDonald's is helping the school system offset costs and providing an additional incentive for academic success. Thirdly, as the previous poster stated, junk food is all over the schools. I have been fed so much junk food in my 13 years of schooling. My economics teacher gives me candy every day. The PTA gives out Krispy Kreme donuts as an incentive for membership. Once we went on a field trip in elementary school and we stopped at a candy store. Singling out McDonald's (targeting the whole chain by the actions of one franchise, by the way) is wholly unfair.


December 10, 2007 11:18 AM

"...Perhaps by doing so you'll live long enough to live through the next 1500 year warming cycle, brought to you by Whole Solar Flares..."

Saying that solar flares cause a global warming cycle that lasts for 1,500 years is like saying that a burst of electricity will heat your house for a millennium. A solar flare is a release of electrically charged particles that takes between three and four days to travel to Earth and dissipates as it's cycled through the magnetosphere and channeled into polar auroras. While they are caused by superheated plasma, the heat liberates electrically charged particles from matter rather then condense them into white hot clouds of immolating gas. These particles spread over an area millions of miles wide, which diffuses the incredible temperatures their vibrations would cause to negligible levels. If these particles produced millions of degrees of heat, the Earth would be long vaporized by wave after wave of these flared slamming into it over billions of years.

Heat and temperature are two different things. Heat is how much energy is being transfered in an environment while temperature measures how much energy is being generated by the motion of a particle. In a solar flare, individual particles vibrate very rapidly, close to the speed of light but they don't really transfer that vibration because they're in small clusters so far apart. What they do transfer is their awesome electrical charge that interacts with our atmosphere and causes shimmering bands of light we know as an aurora.

Flares also don't hit Earth very often and they're random, caused by storms in the solar corona so the idea that they might cause some kind of global warming cycle simply defies everything known and observed about the sun for the last century or so. It can be argued that the solar maximums when the most turbulent storms tend to take place would counter the idea that the storms are random until we note that some of the biggest flares in history have happened during the solar minimums, when the sun was at its calmest.

Methinks John should get a slightly better handle on actual physics before he dives headfirst into the metaphysical realm and explores the various poisons of science, technology and different thought.

Oh and David, I'm just wondering if there are any companies interested in sponsoring science education in schools? In a day and age when pseudo-science is spewed from left and right to justify highly questionable or irresponsible agendas, science and math education would be a must...


December 26, 2007 7:02 PM

silly, yes. but I can't resist uttering the words: get over it hippie. schools, and kids (and even most parents) love programs like this. I know I did when I was that age, easily influenced or not. and I grew up to be a healthy happy 6' 180 lb man, not 380 lbs.


January 4, 2008 11:50 AM

ya if mc donalds wasnt invented i bet there would be so many more heathy kids and adults! yes some people say it is ok to stop by there once in a while and get a big mac or a double cheese burger! yes that is ok but at least they can make it with less grese and some good heathy things on the menu! kids are seeing mc donalds every where and when there parents ask them where they want to go out to eat and u list some options by where u r at i bet u will say mc donald because they r all over! I wish mcdonald could only open like once a week that way if you eat there u dont have to eat it the rest of the week! u know what i am pregnet and i know damn well i am not bringing my kid to mcdonalds on a regular basis im mean it makes u feel like hell and look like shit so why in the fuck do people eat it? i am sorry i am getting mad but this is a seris situation i mean usa is FUCKING the fatest contry in the world! and that makes my want to move because that is showing how people cant take care of themselfs ! so just FUCK mc donald FUCK juck food!! GOSH I CANT BELIVE THIS SIT GOD DAMN IT~

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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