LAST CALL: McDonald's finds PR paradise with Spam combo hit

McDonald's has had its share of PR problems over the years for selling foods that health advocates see as less than nutritious. So you'd think the fast-food king would shun new menu offerings that would give fresh ammunition to the anti-meat groups and others that have protested its bill o' fare over the years.

McDonald's has had its share of PR problems over the years for selling foods that health advocates see as less than nutritious. So you'd think the fast-food king would shun new menu offerings that would give fresh ammunition to the anti-meat groups and others that have protested its bill o' fare over the years.

That makes Mickey D's decision to test market Spam breakfast combos a bit startling. Have McDonald's head honchos in suburban Chicago lost it completely, offering a product that has such a poor image that webheads use its name as a synonym for junk e-mail?

Not quite. The Spam breakfast treats might actually turn into a PR bonanza.

The new combos, featuring Spam, eggs, and rice, are only being offered in McDonald's 78 Hawaiian outlets. And in Hawaii, Spam is anything but junk e-mail.

"Not only do people here eat it with breakfast, it's also used with other dishes, explained Melanie Okazaki, marketing manager for McDonald's of Hawaii.

Spam became a hit in Hawaii during WWII, when GIs gladly shared their canned Spam rations with the locals. Hawaii's WWII generation became Spam junkies and their offspring and offspring's offspring continue the tradition, Okazaki said.

McDonald's decision to offer the $2.69 breakfast Spam plate "has taken on a life of its own in terms of media coverage, she said, with stories running in the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, and as far away as Guam in the week after the new menu offering was introduced. There's even a rumor in the islands that Jay Leno has been talking about it on The Tonight Show.

"It's the local buzz on the street, said Okazaki, who has done so many interviews, people are calling her the Spam Lady.

McDonald's started the test June 7, and had planned to offer the Spam combo through August 1 before deciding if it would be put on the menu permanently.

It just shows how important regional peculiarities are.

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