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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

McBlogger Speaks Out

Air Date: Week of September 22, 2006

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Eco-bloggers created these mock golden arches to criticize McDonald’s promotion of toy Hummers. (Credit: Environmental Working Group and hybridcars.com)

This August, McDonald’s teamed up with General Motors to give out toy models of the gas-guzzling Hummer in their “boy” Happy Meals, stirring up a blogstorm of criticism. An eco-blogger and a McDonald’s spokesman share their views on the promotion.

Transcript

GELLERMAN: This summer, McDonalds teamed up with General Motors for a Happy Meals promotion. They gave away plastic toy Hummers, and environmentalists are not lovin’ it. Does Mickey D’s deserve a break today, or are the give-away Hummers teaching kids to glorify the hulking gas-guzzlers? The issue sent legions of green bloggers into hyper cyber space. Leading the way was Nick Aster, from San Fransisco, founder of the popular blog Triple Pundit dot com, which looks at environmental, social, and business issues.

Hello, Nick.

ASTER: Hey, how are ya doing?

GELLERMAN: I’m fine thanks. So, you know, it’s called a happy meal, but it doesn’t seem to be making you very happy. What’s your problem?


Eco-bloggers created these mock golden arches to criticize McDonald’s promotion of toy Hummers.
(Credit: Environmental Working Group and hybridcars.com)

ASTER: It is a happy meal. I think the issue with the Hummer, is that the Hummer isn’t really a happy image, at least not to a lot of people.

GELLERMAN: What about to you?

ASTER: Not really to me. I think a Hummer to me is sort of this classic almost to the point of cliché example of excess, and greed, and disregard for the environment and the people around us.

GELLERMAN: But you know, Nick, sometimes a toy is just a toy.

ASTER: It’s true it is. But the thing about the Hummer is it has enough symbolism attached to it that I think that even with kids it goes a little bit beyond just a toy.

GELLERMAN: Well, you helped launch a blogstorm. I mean talk about a firestorm of protest. A lot of other blogs picked you up. And I’m wondering about using a blog to conduct this type of corporate protest.

ASTER: Well, you know, interestingly, I think that a blog storm if you want to call it that, turns out to be a pretty effective form of getting one’s point across when it comes to issues like this. My whole beef with the whole thing is that McDonalds has made a very public statement that they care about the environment and I think that giving away toy Hummers in happy meals flies in the face of that claim.

GELLERMAN: Well, one person wrote on your blog that if all McDonalds’ toys were promotional then the last one, Pirates of the Caribbean, would have been promoting a pirate lifestyle of raping, pillaging and plundering. Where do you draw the line between harmless toys and promotion?

ASTER: Well, I think the Pirates of the Caribbean promo would have been promoting going to see the film, which it probably did effectively. You know, I personally am not so much taking the stance of lets hammer McDonalds and make them look bad. They’ve done quite a bit with regards to packaging. We all know about the progress that McDonalds has made with regards to rainforest beef, and some other sourcing issues. I’m sort of taking the perspective of let’s think about what could have McDonalds done better.

GELLERMAN: The vice president from McDonalds said you should write on their blog, actually.

ASTER: I did, as a matter of fact. I left a comment and I suggested to them that they might be better off talking to Honda or even the Tesla people. And giving away a car that represents new technologies like hybrid motors or electric cars or even some sort of gadget that demonstrates the effectiveness and the coolness, if you will, of wind power, that I think kids would get a kick out of.

GELLERMAN: A little plastic windmill?


Eco-bloggers created these mock golden arches to criticize McDonald’s promotion of toy Hummers.
(Credit: Environmental Working Group and hybridcars.com)

ASTER: Sure, why not. It’s a zany idea. But imagine if McDonalds got big into renewable energy and gave away little toy windmills. You could blow on it, lights up a light. Something like that. I’m sure there’s plenty of toy companies that would be interested in promoting something like that. And I’m sure kids would go crazy for it, and they’d probably play with them a lot more than they’d play with the Hummer, which winds up at the bottom of the sandbox after a few days.

GELLERMAN: Or how about a hybrid Hummer?

ASTER: [Laughs] It’s a step, it’s a step, I guess. Course the irony is that the thing’s so big that you’re probably defeating the point, you might as well drive a regular gas car and you’d still be better off. Schwarzenegger drives a biodiesel Hummer, which is definitely a step in the right direction. So, that would be progress.

GELLERMAN: Nick Aster runs Triple Pundit dot com. Thanks Nick.

ASTER: Thanks very much.

GELLERMAN: Well, to be fair, we put a call to McDonalds headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois. It’s home to hamburger U, where they came up with the Hummer of a Summer Happy Meal Promotion. Bill Whitman is a spokesperson for McDonalds. Mr. Whitman, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

WHITMAN: Thanks for having me Bruce.

GELLERMAN: Why a Hummer?

WHITMAN: Well, why not a Hummer? I certainly appreciate the fact that there are some who have concerns about the environment, which we certainly share. We have a long history of responsibility for the environment, and we will continue to do so. But the happy meal promotion with a Hummer toy certainly speaks to what children do best, and that is use their imagination and play.

GELLERMAN: Did you ever consider maybe a Hybrid car?

WHITMAN: Well, we haven’t gotten to that point yet. That doesn’t mean that we won’t, and it doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t consider it when the opportunity presents itself.

GELLERMAN: You know, Mr. Whitman I once read that McDonalds was the biggest distributor of toys in the world?

WHITMAN: We’re also the nation’s largest distributor of fresh sliced apples. So McDonalds – with 13,000 restaurants in the US with 26 million customers coming through our restaurants every day – we do a lot of things in big numbers. But we’re most proud of the commitment that we have to our customers and the communities that we serve. To ensure that we’re doing the right things for the right reasons. And that’s a commitment that McDonalds has shared for many years and we will continue to demonstrate and act in a socially responsible way.

GELLERMAN: Well, Mr. Witman I want to thank you very much.

WHITMAN: Bruce, thanks for having me.

GELLERMAN: Bill Witman is a spokesperson for McDonalds USA.

 

Links

McDonald's Corporate Responsibility Blog

Nick Aster's blog, TriplePundit

Environmental Working Group's and hybridcars.com's parody sign-o-matic

 

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