Mendoza School of Business

A marketing ride together

Published: August 30, 2006 / Author: Heidi Prescott

Millions of Hummers are in the hands of children now that McDonald’s is wrapping up its latest Happy Meal promotion.

Is the Hummer a cute toy?

Or a tricky marketing ploy?

About 42 million miniature Hummers, from the H1 to the H3T concept truck, departed the Golden Arches this month in boxes depicting a mountain adventure. The fast-food giant has informed partner General Motors Corp. that the vehicles have been popular with boys.

Girls received Polly Pockets during the month of August in their Happy eals.”We were told the first two toys sold out quickly. It’s also a way to raise awareness with parents,” said Dayna Hart, Hummer
communications manager at GM in Detroit. For adults who have not seen the H3, she said,
“it’s been a great advertising tool.”

Others disagree.

A Web search for “Hummer happy meal” turns up everything from fleeting references to entire blogs from folks who say they are outraged by the restaurant promotion and the message it sends to children.

At the Ronald McHummer sign-o-matic site (, which is not affiliated with the restaurant chain or GM, users can write a message about the promotion on a marquee, and send a message to McDonald’s to stop promoting what it calls “gas-guzzlers that keep us dependent on foreign oil.”

Did GM expect backlash? “We definitely expected something because Hummer is such a polarizing brand. It really didn’t surprise us,” Hart said. “But it is a little silly to get so upset over a toy. We don’t feel like we’re corrupting America’s youth. And keep in mind that these are toys, they consume no gas.”

GM will be open to considering other future partnerships with McDonald’s, she said. Dave Sparks, who owns and operates 13 area McDonald’s restaurants, has heard nothing at all negative about Happy Meal Hummers.

“It’s especially good for the South Bend-Mishawaka area because we make (full-size) Hummers here. It’s another great premium toy we can offer,” Sparks said.

GM plans to expand its exclusive McDonald’s promotion into Hummer dealerships. In September, children who visit a Hummer dealership will receive a “Team Hummer” Rod Hall H3. Information about the vehicle will accompany the toy in kid-friendly language. Companies like McDonald’s have to be careful about possible implications from partnerships they forge, said Patrick Murphy, professor of marketing at the University of Notre Dame and director of the Institute of Ethical Business Worldwide.

“Sure kids have influence on their parents, but I doubt they have that much influence,” he said, noting how the campaign likely was more focused on gaining exposure of the Hummer brand than changing buying behavior.

“Obviously, no kid is going to make a decision on buying a $50,000 car — for many years, anyhow,” Murphy said. But could it plant a seed?It could, Hart said. “Maybe someday one of these kids will buy one of their own.”



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