The Golden Rule? McDonalds Pays Off Good Grades

reportcard-graphic-doublea.jpgYesterday Ad Age reported, “McDonald’s has found a nifty way to reach kids even as TV ad options toward the demographic shrink: Advertise on report cards.” Um…”nifty?”

How about subversive? Opportunistic? Manipulative? Hypocritical? Undermining parents’ values?

Shaping Youth already called ‘em to task for the sour ‘apples and milk’ attempt at ‘greenwashing good health’ using Shrek, the junk food ogre, now the golden arches deserves a new moniker…”goldwashing”…as in french fries as “pay offs” for As & Bs. (CCFC’s magnifier enables you to zoom in to read the “food prize” text, plus you can take action and tell McDonalds to knock it off, too!)

Has McDonalds ever read the psychological and dietary implications of using ‘food as prizes’ with young children, setting patterns for eating disorders and such? Yah, didn’t think so.

Commentary on the Blogging Stocks site will give you a parental peek from all views EXCEPT that one, and dietary disorders are worthy of unearthing…As this research shows, eating disorders vary in degree with ‘food as prize’ habits starting early on…

mcds-logo.jpgSome parents use M&Ms as potty training tools, others use junk food as a ‘reward’ without even considering the deeper message being sent. Moderation with all foods, sure…but there’s no need to amp up the importance by giving it ‘prize power’ and risk fouling up wee ones in the ‘behavioral modification’ arena…sheesh.

The golden arches didn’t REALLY think they’d get a Hamburglar hallpass with the little striped guy in the mask tiptoe-ing past parents’ radar on the report card scene…did they?

In an era of über-transparency, with Unilever being blasted for polarity of their Axe/Dove beauty messages, and Facebook’s beacon experiment with kids’ privacy to see if anyone would squeal (50,000+ guinea pigs rebeled using media to force a policy reversal, including yours truly!) it’s odd that food marketers wouldn’t be more circumspect. As it is they’re under the microscope for regulatory action…

The blogosphere will ‘out’ your school commercialism agenda faster than you can say ‘profit margin’ and ‘media buy’ much less “platform.”

Yeah, that’s right, Ad Age has the gall to headline this commercialism “McD’s newest ad platform.”

Platform? Seriously? I’m sorry, gang…Windows & Mac are platforms, mobile & social media are platforms, French fry coupons on report cards are low brow incentives/couponing at best, they are not a ‘platform.’

MAYbe a tweaked junk food ‘reward system’ for desperately bankrupt public schools who take the money and run for $1600 bucks in order to pay for textbooks and ballfields in our sorry state of educational funding…but a platform? I think not.

We’ve heard plenty about pinkwashing and greenwashing…well, this is GOLDwashing…coinage/coupons for calorie-laden crud…golden french fries and nuggets from the golden arches…

How can McDs brand themselves as “health-concerned” corporate citizens only to promote their sodium/sat fat slop smack dab on the sleeve of school report cards in a reward promo pay-off for Sally & Johnny to snarf down their ‘Happy Meals?’

And all this amidst their ‘choices’ positioning and the obesity pandemic? ugh.

Ad Age crows, “The Golden Arches picked up the $1,600 cost of printing report-card jackets for the 2007-2008 school year in Seminole County, Fla., 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.” Uh-huh.

Yet McDonalds execs have the audacity to say they don’t ‘advertise’ in schools?!?!?!? ‘Scuse me??? What the heck do you call putting a brand on a report card to get in the face of every kid and parent signing off on the ol’ ABCs & 3 Rs?

According to William Whitman, spokesman for McDonald’s USA, “McDonald’s has a longstanding and rich heritage of supporting education and academic excellence,” he said. “McDonald’s does not advertise in schools. However, we continue to support education initiatives in the communities we serve.”

Ah, “educational initiatives.” Is that what we’re calling them now? Hmn. Sweet.

Just like those ‘wellness programs’ we wrote about sponsored by Coke and Pepsi. Or the bogus bans of junk food in schools. Or the wafer thin childhood obesity prevention we wrote about when you’ve got the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge sponsored by Burger King!

mcd-reportcard120507.jpgGotcha. Wink-wink. Thought we were being serious about kids’ health and public good for a minute. Oops. My bad.

Our dear industry colleagues go on to argue a dozen years of precedent, naming Pizza Hut’s “Book It” program, in which elementary and preschool children who meet monthly reading goals are entitled to a free one-topping personal pizza each month with nearly 1 million U.S. classrooms participating.

Just because it’s “been done,” does NOT mean it’s right…

It’s easy to conduct a ‘what’s the big deal’ shrug fest on commercialism, but the truth is, kids are being brandwashed earlier and earlier, and studies show this crud sticks.

No sooner had Healthblogger and Shaping Youth Correspondent, Rebecca Scritchfield praised the new ad for McD’s apple dippers, than she was forced to retreat by this report card fiasco. (she cites a helpful Clemson University resource for using NON-food rewards and discusses the dietary implications of food-prize corollaries)

happymeal.jpgToss in the range of the “Happy Meal” itself which can run from a cheeseburger, fries and soda (660cals/25g fat) to a white-meat chicken-nugget meal w/apple dippers/caramel sauce & milk (375cals/13.5g fat) and you’ll no doubt hear McDs argue that “kids have choices,” along with a McFlurry of reasons why sponsorships like these are not worthy of advocacy groups like CCFC to pursue.

Strongly disagree.

Parents should be able to send their kids to school without being mined by products in the hallways, classrooms, textbooks, tissue boxes, vending machines and homework materials of corporate vested interests.

Kids are a captive audience at school, strapped in with safety belts like a plane flight without the soda…

Oh wait. They’ve replaced soda with sports drinks…because they’re ‘healthier’ alternatives, right?

Ahem. If you believe that, you’ll believe no one is ‘advertising’ in schools. Sigh.

Want to take action?

Start by using this public education “commercialism assessment” to walk-through the corridors of your public schools and see how much advertising is embedded.

Get involved at a policy level.

Share this handy 9-page citizen action guide with your PTA.

Add your voice to CCFC’s growing number of media wise parents who believe zealous health pros, marketers and institutions should be ‘walking the walk’ if they’re talking the talk.

What’s happening in your neighborhood schools? How much commercialism has infiltrated into everything from the posters to the school lunch vendors?

two-angry-moms.gifHas anyone had the hutzpah to take on the hot lunch/district programs in your region? It’s quite a political hot potato, but it CAN be done.

See the new media documentary Two Angry Moms, which we’ll be reporting about soon! Excellent primer on how YOU can make a difference and impact the masses with media that matters!!!

Visual credit for report card graphic: Double A Zone

Related Articles

Stuart Elliot/NYTimes: Straight A’s With A Burger For A Prize

Chicago Trib: You Want Fries With That A+?

Orlando Sentinel: Seminole Students Get McDonalds Bonus On Report Cards

CNN Money/Finding Shelter Under the Golden Arches (investment angle)



  1. “Students for Sale — How Corporations Are Buying Their Way into America’s Classrooms” by Steven Manning (note: almost a decade ago!) September 27, 1999!!

    Amazing & worthwhile article, available on the Education Policy Studies Laboratory website at

  2. Ah…and just for grins, I include this reply from McDonalds to my letter saying essentially, ‘stop sneakin’ your fries in front of the face of kids’…Here’s the corporate response:

    “Thank you for contacting McDonald’s USA about marketing to children and our support of schools in Seminole County, Florida.

    McDonald’s has a rich history of leadership supporting programs and initiatives that benefit children’s health and well-being. From local reading programs and school fund-raisers to national programs that promote
    physical activity and nutrition literacy, McDonald’s is committed to helping families and children.

    Enhancements to our menu such as Happy Meal Choices, including fresh fruit, low-fat milk, apple juice and Chicken McNuggets made with white meat, provide our customers with food and beverage options that meet their tastes and dietary needs. We’re listening to our customers and we’re responding
    by offering even more variety and choice on our menu.

    Earlier this year McDonald’s was among the first U.S. companies to commit to the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Food Pledge – a broad and comprehensive initiative to incorporate messages in advertising to children
    under the age of 12 years-old about healthy food and beverage choices and healthy lifestyles. Our commitment to the CBBB Food Pledge also includes a commitment not to advertise food and beverage products in elementary schools. We stand by and will honor this commitment.

    Regarding our relationship with schools in Seminole County, Florida, this is a local program to encourage and reward academic excellence. McDonald’s has for many years partnered with local schools and school districts to support initiatives that further academic achievement in the communities that we serve. Our commitment to education and academic excellence is unwavering.

    We remain committed to working with local schools and school districts to ensure we maintain the trust our customers – including parents – have in our brand. We are evaluating the program in Seminole County and others across the country to ensure we are consistent in our marketing efforts nationally, and locally. As responsible marketers and members of the communities where we do business, we remain committed to honoring our commitment to the CBBB.”

    Okay, gang…now come, freakin’ on…How can you HONESTLY BE SO BRASH AS TO STATE THIS:

    “Our commitment to the CBBB Food Pledge also includes a commitment not to advertise food and beverage products in elementary schools. We stand by and will honor this commitment.” And then plaster your brand all over the report cards????!!!

    Talk about a technicality!!! No, they’re not serving apples and milk at recess or in the concession stand (yet) but they are CLEARLY embedding their BRAND on these REPORT CARDS which IS advertising, IN AND OUT of school!!! (with the added bonus that it reaches the homefront too!)

    This is worthy of a YouTube ‘Unilever Onslaught’ style pushback riff on “commercialism that purports not to be” …Rye Clifton, are you listening? Let’s team and talk again!!! 🙂

  3. CCFC strikes again…

    As they say in the film industry, “that’s a wrap…”

    “Following a campaign led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and nearly two-thousand parent complaints, McDonald’s has ended its controversial report card advertising in Seminole County, Florida. Children in kindergarten through fifth-grade had been receiving their report cards in envelopes adorned with Ronald McDonald promising a free Happy Meal to students with good grades, behavior, or attendance. CCFC was alerted to the advertising by Seminole County parent Susan Pagan. The following is the statement of CCFC’s director Dr. Susan Linn:

    This is a good day for parents and children in Seminole County and anyone who believes that corporations should not prey on children in schools. We are pleased that McDonald’s is listening to parents all over the country who believe that report cards should not be commercialized. …”

    You can read more on their site…

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