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One of the odd yet fun assignments I had as head of corporate communications for McDonald’s was in helping build a relationship with Warren Buffett, who had quietly acquired a $1.5 billion position in McDonald’s stock. We decided to award him a rare McDonald’s Gold Card, entitling him to dine free at McDonald’s. We had Tiffany design and make the special card. Then we distributed Buffet’s photo to all the McDonald’s restaurants in Omaha, his home town, so they would recognize him if he presented the card. When I attended  a teacher’s award dinner he sponsored in Omaha, he was asked if he ever carried cash, and he pulled out his McDonald’s special card, telling the teachers he was most proud of it, but never had the courage to actually use it.

In the news story below, Bill Gates tells of the Chinese McDonald’s coupons we once provided Gates and Buffett, who chartered a train to travel together across China with their families. Buffett had contacted us before the trip, saying he knew he’d miss McDonald’s as they traveled through China, so could we please give him a map of the McDonald’s locations along his route. We did, and also gave the families a supply of Chinese McDonald’s coupons to use.

The Rob Lowe story below refers to the inventor of the Egg McMuffin, franchisee and former ad man Herb Peterson. Peterson created McDonald’s first breakfast item in the late 70s, introducing it to chairman Ray Kroc as “a poor man’s eggs benedict.”

 

Headline: Some of the richest billionaires in the world still eat at McDonald’s

1 Hour Ago

These billionaires have all the money in the world -- and they still eat at McDonald's

These billionaires have all the money in the world — and they still eat at McDonald’s

Despite their ability to spend, spend, spend, even some of the richest people in the world stick to a few frugal habits. For a few billionaires, that means opting out of Michelin-starred restaurants in favor of an American classic: McDonald’s.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was spotted eating a grab-and-go McDonald’s meal on the Mignanelli Steps near Piazza Spagna in Rome during his honeymoon with his new wife Priscilla Chan in 2012.

Legendary investor Warren Buffett loves the Golden Arches as well. He visits the restaurant every day for breakfast and never spends more than $3.17.

On his five-minute drive to the office, which he’s been doing for the past 54 years, Buffett stops by McDonald’s and orders one of three items.

Warren Buffett's McDonald's breakfast policy always keeps his meals under $3.17

Warren Buffett keeps his breakfast under $3.17

“I tell my wife, as I shave in the morning, I say, ‘Either $2.61, $2.95 or $3.17.’ And she puts that amount in the little cup by me here [in the car],” he explains in HBO’s documentary, “Becoming Warren Buffett.”

Each amount corresponds with a different option at McDonald’s. For $2.61, he can get two sausage patties, $3.17 gets him a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit and $2.95 buys him a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit.

Buffett keeps it frugal even when treating his friends to lunch. In Bill and Melinda Gates’ 2017 annual letter, which they addressed to longtime friend Buffett, Bill tells the story of a particularly economical lunchBuffett took him out for years ago.

McDonald's Quarter Pounder hamburger

Getty Images
McDonald’s Quarter Pounder hamburger

“Remember the laugh we had when we traveled together to Hong Kong and decided to get lunch at McDonald’s? You offered to pay, dug into your pocket, and pulled out … coupons!” he writes.

Both Buffett and Gates are frequent enough patrons to Mickey D’s that they’ve earned the chain’s coveted Gold Cards. In a 2007 interview with CNBC, Buffett shared the contents of his wallet, showing off his card, which lets him eat for free at any McDonald’s in Omaha for the rest of his life.

“So that’s why the Buffett family has Christmas dinner at McDonald’s,” he laughs. “It explains a lot of things.”

Warren Buffett's most eccentric traits

Warren Buffett’s most eccentric traits

The cards are rare. While Buffett’s is only good in Omaha, he explains that Gates’ card gets him free meals anywhere in the world. “Mine is only good in Omaha, but I never leave Omaha so mine is just as good as his,” he says.

Billionaires aren’t the only ones who can boast of Gold Card privileges — although if helps to know someone. In 2015, actor Rob Lowe revealed his own card during a segment on Jimmy Kimmel Live. “My buddy’s dad invented the Egg McMuffin,” he says. “Which, to me, is like the greatest human achievement.”

Like Buffett’s card, Lowe’s was limited. He could only use it at McDonald’s franchises in Santa Barbara or Goleta, Calif., and it expired after a year, in 2016.

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“Earned Media” is one of the most-used expressions in the world of public relations. It refers to the media coverage given to an issue, person, product or brand that is covered as news because of its potential appeal to readers, viewers or listeners, and not because it was paid for by an advertiser. Earned Media is free media coverage as opposed to paid media coverage.

Back when I was doing public relations work for corporations and not-for-profits, we would take pride when the quality of our messages and messengers on behalf of these clients would be perceived by the news media or worthy of coverage as news for their audiences. Our PR agencies or departments would receive praise and great credit from management for “Earning” such free media coverage based upon the merits and creativity of the messages we crafted. Such “earned media” coverage was usually seen as more credible and thus more valuable than messages we purchased as advertising. Though we could precisely choose how to phrase and present our own messages in advertising, it was seen as much more valuable when such messages were communicated through credible news people, who supposedly selected what to cover as “news” based upon its editorial   worthiness and suitability to their target audiences.

But in today’s news, when “infotainment” is the new norm in so-called news coverage, and entertainment value trumps (pardon the expression) real news content, it is increasingly embarrassing to professional communicators to see gratuitous coverage of political foolishness passed off as “earned media.” The public relations profession either needs a new term for real news that  “earns” its place in news coverage versus advertising, or else infotainment that tries to pass for “earned Media” should perhaps just be called what it is — “Goofy Media!”.

Albert Einstein’s transcendent admonition to mankind to “widen our circle of compassion” across both time and space, was central to the context of my history of the global socializing role of the French fry, when I addressed the tuber topic before The Chicago Literary Club. Here’s an excerpt from my essay:

“By now, you’re probably about done in, as well. So, I’ll bring this “appreciation of the french fry” to a close. But, I realize I’ve left out, until now, one final dimension from the title of this essay, which again is — French Fried: From Monticello to the Moon. What’s this about french fries and outer space, you ask? Well, in 1995, NASA and the University of Wisconsin at Madison, created a new technology with the goal of feeding astronauts on long space voyages, with a view to eventually feeding future space colonies. In October of that year, the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in outer space.

“It’s a funny thing, because one of my first assignments shortly after becoming a McDonald’s consultant, some 30 years ago, was to help associate McDonald’s image, as it approached its 30th anniversary, with the space age.

“One of the fun facts we worked up in support of the premise that McDonald’s menu might literally reach space one day, was to compute the number of McDonald’s french fries, strung end to end that it would take to reach the moon. To figure it out we sent for a box of fries and measured each one, then divided and determined the average length, and multiplied by the average mileage to the moon – a quarter million miles. If you’re curious, pick up a box of fries at McDonald’s, do the math, and see how close you get to 4.5 billion fries to the moon.

“I’d like to take that long ladder of moon-bound french fries just one last step farther into the future, as I wrap up this voyage through history. Albert Einstein thought that perhaps the greatest challenge facing mankind is to “widen our circle of compassion” across both time and space. Our ethnic and geopolitical squabbling might pale into insignificance if our compassionate circles were wide enough, he reasoned.

“So let’s no longer worry whether the little fry is French, Belgian, American or Russian, but take it with us into the future, even into space, as a tasty treat for our frail band of wandering humanity, and continue to enjoy the good little things in life.

“John Calvi, in a 1982 poem called “French Fries,” perhaps said it best, in his final stanza, when he wrote:

“Some think the army, the bombs and the guns
Will one day save all of our lives,
I don’t believe it – heat up your pans
Make peace, and lots of French fries.”

Here is a link to my complete essay: “French Fried: From Monticello to the Moon”

http://www.chilit.org/Papers%20by%20author/Ebeling%20–%20French%20Fried.htm

In 1993, the innovative former Chicago theatre executive credited with being the first to put butter on movie popcorn, passed away. David Wallerstein, who by then was the longest-serving board member at McDonald’s, had become a good friend. It was his idea to offer large fries at McDonald’s — I remember buying bag after tiny bag of 15-cent fries at McDonald’s as a kid. Dave never missed a McDonald’s marketing or communications meeting, and was always sharing his wise perspective and counsel on what might click with customers.  The insights he brought to enliven the movie theatre business carried forward to enhance the world’s largest restaurant company. Here’s his obit from The New York
Times.

David Wallerstein; Theater Innovator In Midwest Was 87

By LEE A. DANIELS Published: January 06, 1993

David B. Wallerstein, an innovator in the movie theater business, died Monday at his home in Chicago. He was 87.

Mr. Wallerstein died of cancer, said Chuck Ebeling, a spokesman for the McDonald’s Corporation, which Mr. Wallerstein had served as a board member since 1968.

Mr. Wallerstein retired in 1965 from the presidency of the Balaban & Katz Corporation, a Chicago-based entertainment company that during his tenure was the largest movie theater chain in the Midwest. He joined the company in 1926 when he was 21, after graduating from the Harvard Business School, and quickly became one of the leading showmen in the country.

His innovations included adding live shows to the movie screenings. Such stars as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Mary Martin and Judy Garland sang before audiences in the company’s showpiece, the Chicago Theater, from the 1930’s to the 1950’s.

Other innovations were putting butter on popcorn, ice in drinks and caramel on apples at theater concession stands.

In 1946, he was involved in the purchase of Chicago’s first television station, WBKB, whose successor station is WBBM, the CBS-owned affiliate. He was also one of those responsible for putting the “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” children’s show on television in the 1950’s. A native of Richmond, he graduated from the University of Virginia in 1924. In his 80’s, he was still an active hiker, downhill skier and traveler. Last year he journeyed to the Antarctic and had planned to travel to the North Pole until health problems interfered.

Mr. Wallerstein’s wife, Caroline, died in 1982. A son, Michael R. Wallerstein, died in 1974.

He is survived by two sons, David L. Wallerstein of Washington and John M. Rau of Orange County, Calif., and one grandson.

 

Anyone watching the media or live election events must by now be aware the advertising and Public relations industries run the national elections. They frame the messages, train the candidates on how to present effectively, create and produce ads, media appearances, special events, election materials, and on and on. With billions of dollars available, their reach and penetration into the political process is immeasurable.

Candidates are “packaged” like cereal and celebrities, movies and TV shows.

Yes, Presidential candidates deserve professional communications advice and support, but the outsized funding now pouring into the campaigns, this “packaging” pf the candidates has become abusive of truth and credibility, in my view. If we had election funding controls, the abuse of ad/PR capabilities in national elections could be put back into proper perspective.

Let’s put the marketing genie back into the political bottle!

 

Avis is no longer committed to their pledge “We Try Harder,” according the 4A’s Smart Brief, below. I remember years ago when I was working in public affiars for Allstate when they tried to move away from their iconic slogan, “You’re in Good Hands with Allstate.” Well, the “Good Hands” people saw the light and went back to the words they were known by. I wonder how long it will take Avis to do the same?

Avis ends the era of “We Try Harder”
Avis is discarding its iconic, half-century-old tagline “We Try Harder,” as brand looks to target business travelers with a new line: “It’s Your Space.” Chief Marketing Officer Jeannine Haas, who has been in the job for about a year, defended the decision to drop one of the most successful taglines in history by saying the new tag is “reflective of [Avis’] ongoing mission to be a customer-led, service-driven company and presents the brand in terms of the customer experience.” Advertising Age (tiered subscription model)(8/27)

 

My all-time blog hits on WordPress topped 25,000 sometime after last midnight, which may have been made possible partially by a new kind of people being called “Nocturnavores.”

This morning, I read a wonderful story about how McDonald’s ad agency in Columbus, Ohio, has coined the word “Nocturnavores” in reference to those customers seeking out “Breakfast After Midnight”.  McDonald’s now has some 127 restaurants in northern Ohio serving customers 24 hours a day, and offering breakfast after midnight, instead of after 5am. Thus, the breakfast “day part” is extended to 10 hours (midnight to 10am) at McDonald’s, reflecting and anticipating dining trends, especially among younger people. http://www.bizjournals.com/columbus/news/2012/07/31/mcdonalds-launches-breakfast-after.html.

The term “locavores” was coined several years ago to refer to people who choose to buy locally-grown food. The 2012 spring Ebeling PR-ize for cause-related public relations at Bradley University was won by a team that created a campaign called “The Peoria Locavores,” promoting locally-produced food in the Peoria, Illinois market.

 

The German Institute of Service Quality (http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/10/how-did-ikea-beat-out-mcdonalds-for-germanys-most-popular-fast-food/246164/) has done a new survey in Germany in which furniture store Ikea beat out McDonald’s for fast food service. Seems furniture stores in Germany are promoting breakfast, and even roof garden restaurants, with distinct success and popularity. While this may seem like a fluke in consumerism, the idea of combining a retail consumer experience with fast food does make sense, as evidenced by the McDonald’s we see in Walmarts and gas station service centers in the U.S. Perhaps the idea of window-shopping for furniture — fun but not necessarily costly — is a new draw for fast food customers?

The so-called “Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine” has done a good job of attracting attention, but a bad job, in my view, of educating people with it’s new billboard near the Green Bay Packer’s legendary Lambeau Field in Green Bay, that portrays a death figure with an anti-cheese nutritional message. On the group’s website, they portray the death figure wearing a bright yellow cheesehead, their attention-getting gimmick, but on the new actual billboard, the threat of a lawsuit from the Milwaukee-based company that manufactures the trademarked cheeseheads caused them to remove the popular symbol.

This stunt by the so-called “Physician’s” group, is the sort of distortion that obscures the correct message: that moderation in eating cheese, as in all things, makes sense. See the original “cheesehead” billboard as still posted on the “Physician’s” website: http://www.pcrm.org/media/news/censored-billboard-near-lambeau-warns-of-cheese

If eating 3 times a day is a sinister idea, then the critics of Ronald McDonald have a point. But what does Ronald do? He helps parents make breakfast, lunch or dinner, or a snack, a happy experience for their kids. Most parents would say that is helpful to them. McDonald’s offers many appealing menu choices for kids and parents, along with known nutrition, portion control and quality control. Add a little parental guidance and what do you have — a Happy Meal! McDonald’s is on the upward curve in nutritional responsibility.

P.S. And don’t forget Ronald McDonald House — no one made McDonald’s build all those wonderful places, but they did just because they could. Guess that’s social responsibility in action, too.

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