Posted by: Amy Chandler | January 20, 2008

Studying for rewards: pizza and chicken nuggets

It’s a tricky path to navigate when it comes to rewarding kids for performing well in school. My parents say that they’re glad that I was always self-motivated (more like a big dork), but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t appreciate any rewards they did give me for a shiny report card of A’s.Growing up in the 90s meant that my parents weren’t the only ones rewarding me for working hard. Back then, Pizza Hut and their Book It program kept me reading for my very own personal pan pizza. Again, I would have read anyway, but who’s going to argue with a tasty reward?

A month or so ago, I noticed articles in AdAge and the New York Times about McDonald’s sponsoring their own program in place of the Pizza Hut program in a Florida school district. Apparently local McDonald’s restaurants agreed to sponsor Happy Meals for elementary school kids with good grades and attendance. McDonald’s placed Ronald McDonald, the Golden Arches and a picture of a Happy Meal on report card envelopes that kids brought home.

Of course, advertising to children is often controversial. But would this program be perceived any differently than the Book It program formerly used in the same school district?

It definitely was. Parents immediately called for McDonald’s to remove their logos from the envelopes and their incentive from good grades. They didn’t appreciate McDonald’s linking good grades and fast food, and they claimed that the chain was undermining their efforts to educate their children about good nutrition.

Well, in a more recent New York Times article, McDonald’s USA agreed to reprint the report card envelopes without its trademarks.

This case illustrates the strength of a parental grassroots effort to police outside influences on their children. However well-intentioned McDonald’s was, it lost.

Does it matter that it is parents who ultimately control whether or not their kids redeem their report card for a Happy Meal? Or that Happy Meals can be ordered with milk and apple slices? No. What matters is that parents were upset enough to organize a successful effort to remove the logos and the incentive. Kudos to McDonald’s USA for offering to reprint the envelopes.

In my real estate class the other day we talked about similar efforts by strong, wealthy homeowners associations. Angry homeowners contested the construction of an upscale apartment complex that a city permitted against its own zoning codes. The developer had completed the complex anyway, thinking that eventually he could win. In the end, he paid to tear the whole thing down.

I guess the perennial lesson is never to ignore your publics. They may be a lot stronger and angrier than you think.

All I can say is that I hope my parents would have bought me a Happy Meal anyway.



  1. Pizza is the all time cure for everything. Even the worst Pizza isn’t all that bad.

    You may not know Yogi Berra but here’s the story. He goes into a Pizza parlor and orders a cheese Pizza. The watress says, would you like that cut into 6 or 8 pieces. He says, better make it 6 I can’t eat 8.

  2. That’s true about bad pizza, especially for kids!

    Oh, Yogi, always good for a laugh.

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