Here’s a quick follow-up to an article written back in November: McDonald’s hired ex-science teacher, John Cisna, as a “brand ambassador” after he lost weight by limiting his calories to 2,000 a day, exercised significantly more than he had been, and ate nothing but items from the McDonald’s menu for ninety days. He continued for an additional ninety days and created a video entitled 540 Meals (based on his three daily trips to McDonald’s over the 180 days). Of course, there was a book as well. None of this would have been all that noteworthy since any diet expert could tell you that if you consume fewer calories than you use, you are going to lose weight (and a 2,000 limit for a man who weighed 280 pounds at the start of this process was a significant reduction), even if those calories have little nutritional value. Cisna used this as a school project, so he had his students calibrate his dietary needs and select his meals to maximize nutrition, at least as far as a McDonald’s menu could. But there were definitely weaknesses in that diet, which was pointed out by many nutritionists at the time this first came to light.
And it came to light because after hiring Cisna, McDonald’s used its networks to arrange appearances for him at public schools across the country. Cisna claimed that his message was all about making good choices, but many (including myself) saw this a thinly veiled attempt to insert fast-food advertising into schools, where it has no place. A Change.org petition was started to try to stop these appearances this past October; and after collecting 90,000 signatures (and mine), it worked. McDonald’s announced this past week officially that Cisna was no longer appearing in schools (his last school visit occurred on November 13), and that he is instead speaking with community groups and employees (adults) about his experiences. (You can read articles about this most recent development here and here). I’m not sure how many points to give McDonald’s for this—they never should have started running “infomercials” in public schools in the first place, but school officials never should have allowed them to. And Mickey D’s did end the campaign, but waited some five months to acknowledge that fact, and it took 90,000 protests as well as negative publicity to get them to do so.
The good news is that our public schools are no longer at risk for some shady presentation masking as “science” sneaking ads into our kids’ classrooms. But we should all be on alert for the various shades of propaganda which often weasel their ways into places they don’t belong. Now, about those multi-media events staged in schools all over the country with three screens; popular movie, television, sports, and music clips; and a vaguely positive message about being true to yourself—and, oh yeah, don’t forget the frequent “placement” of various junk food brands.