McDonald’s might want to rethink this particular promotional strategy

The victims of the Cleveland kidnapping have — mercifully — been mostly kept from cameras and the public eye, and so in their absence, the country has fixated on the hero, Charles Ramsey:

The appropriateness of this fascination has been called into question, but whatever you think of the latent racism implicated by Ramsey’s transmogrification into meme sainthood, you have to admit he acted swiftly and decisively, did the right thing, made some cogent points on camera, and gave a solid interview.

In other words, spokesperson material.

So it didn’t take long before somebody tried to take advantage. The words “I’m eating my McDonald’s” were barely out of Ramsey’s mouth (:07 into the clip) before McDonald’s jumped in to take some credit:

Of course, there’s a downside to capitalizing on someone else’s fame. The LA Times is running a poll — “In this case, is McDonald’s behavior in bad taste?” — under the title “McDonald’s shamelessly exploits Cleveland rescue” that (after about 2,500 votes) unsurprisingly shows “in bad taste” ahead with 56% of the vote. And when you’re selling food, the last thing you want to be accused of is “bad taste” — OK, maybe second to last, after “food poisoning.”

On top of the public’s gut reaction (pun intended), there’s also “expert” opinion that says maybe this wasn’t the greatest idea:

Even as some applaud McDonald’s for reaching out to him, others are condemning the burger kingpin for its tweet. “I call it news-jacking,” says Chris Ann Goddard, president of the PR firm CGPR.  “They’re taking advantage of a situation to help their brand.”

[…]

“It opens up a can of worms,” says Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5W Public Relations. “I thought this was more fitting for a local restaurant chain than for a multibillion-dollar corporation.” [Editor’s note: ouch.]

The McDonald’s tweet is a perfect reflection of what’s happening to marketing in America, says Al Ries, chairman of the marketing strategy firm Ries & Ries. “The social-media folks all jump on something without asking: Is this a good idea?”

And in retrospect, the company might have been better off first asking “Is this a good idea?” Sure, Ramsey may have been munching on a Big Mac while preparing to become a hero, but it’s usually good practice to get the full story first. Especially when the full story turns out to be riddled with your brand in less-than-flattering ways. I now turn to CNN for some news (weird, I know):

Some neighbors of Ariel Castro have second-guessed themselves, asking if they could have prevented the horrors had they noticed details that now seem out of place.

For example, neighbor Daniel Marti — who has described Castro as an “outgoing person, very nice guy” — asked why he didn’t question why the single man frequently carried bags full of McDonald’s food into the house where he appeared to live alone, or why he frequently steered conversation away from it.

In other words — aside from cake on their kidnapping “anniversaries” — the only thing we definitively know these girls ate over the past decade was McDonald’s passed through a hole in a door. On second thought, maybe this isn’t a story any company should want to be associated with… Then again, McDonald’s doesn’t seem to have a real problem being associated with confinement, so who really knows what’s going on upstairs.

But before you conclude, as did the LA Times, that McDonald’s can take absolutely no credit for this rescue —

McDonald’s played no role in the rescue other than being the low-cost, high-calorie food that Ramsey happened to be eating at the time of the occurrence.

That made it as relevant to things as the maker of the shoes he was wearing or the person who cuts his hair.

— and that inserting itself into the story was therefore entirely unjustified, it’s worth noting that even that criticism is something less than the whole story:

Berry told police that Castro forgot to lock what she called the ‘big inside door’ at the property in Seymour Avenue.

She said he had left the house to walk to a nearby McDonalds to buy food for the four captives.

And that’s where they found him, playing happy paying customer:

One of the cops saw Knight through the crack of a door — and she jumped into his arms, saying, “You saved me!”

DeJesus emerged from another room, and they were led from the house by the cop, who began to cry, NBC said.

Castro was soon arrested at a nearby McDonald’s with one of his brothers.

So even if it’s not quite “Hamburglar breaks through locked door, discovers three kidnapped girls inside”, you can’t say McDonald’s played no role.

Thank you, Ronald. I guess.

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