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Kidnapping: McDonald's tweet raises eyebrows

12:10 PM, May 9, 2013   |    comments
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McDonald's has turned to Twitter to say it's hoping to do what "thousands" of people have urged it to do: a good deed for the McDonald's-eating hero who helped free the Cleveland kidnap victims.

The tweet - which went out late Tuesday: "We salute the courage of Ohio kidnap victims & respect their privacy. Way to go Charles Ramsey - we'll be in touch."

But already, in a world where almost every social-media action results in social-media reaction, there's blow-back.As of late Wednesday, McDonald's still hadn't met with Ramsey. 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."

Even more than burgers and fries, perhaps the most important thing that McDonald's sells is its image. That image became intrinsically linked with hero Charles Ramsey, when he told reporters that he was "eating my McDonald's" when he saw kidnap victim Amanda Berry trying to get out of the house - and helped her escape.McDonald's strongly insists that it's doing nothing of the kind. "Thousands of people have reached out to us expressing their sentiment for McDonald's to do something for Mr. Ramsey," spokeswoman Danya Proud says in an e-mail. "We hear them!"

One PR expert strongly agrees with McDonald's. After hearing from so many consumers, "McDonald's really had no choice but to throw themselves into the community and voice their support," says Jim Joseph, North American president at the public relations firm Cohn & Wolfe. "I believe that taking your cues from consumers is always the way to go."

Others say the McDonald's tweet was a huge blunder.

"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."

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?"

McDonald's, meanwhile, is keeping mum about the specifics. "Out of respect for the victims involved, as well as Mr. Ramsey, both McDonald's and local franchisees will personally be reaching out to Mr. Ramsey directly," Proud says.

But Ries insists that McDonald's would have been far wiser to do something for Ramsey without making a public splash out of it. "Just because you do something for someone," he says, "you don't have to tweet about it."

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