Brand Defiance at McDonald's

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.

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