McDonald's takes new step in effort to get kids active

One of McDonald's' major corporate focuses is on health and wellness.

One of McDonald's' major corporate focuses is on health and wellness.

As childhood obesity touches off concerns across the US, McDonald's has stepped up to encourage kids to stay active and make healthy food choices as a part of its global "Balanced, Active Lifestyles" campaign.

Along these lines, the McDonald's Restaurants of the Greater Philadelphia Region, which encompasses restaurants in parts of Delaware and New Jersey, as well as in the Philadelphia area, asked its AOR, Tierney Communications, to develop a regional program that would not just gain attention, but also get children moving.

But inspiring kids to exercise can be tough, especially with TVs, computers, and video games keeping them in permanent seated positions. So Tierney created a program that stressed fun to entice kids to get up and put their best feet forward.


When thinking up the summer 2005 program, Tierney staffers realized that dancing might be a way to connect with kids without turning them off with a boring, exercise-only message.

"Some kids don't want to hear 'exercise, exercise, exercise' but they don't necessarily think of dance as exercise," says Ticia Whitsett, account supervisor at Tierney. So the team thought up a dance contest for kids 17 and under, complete with cash prizes, that would take advantage of downtime when school let out.

Larry Norton, regional marketing director at McDonald's, adds that the popularity of recent dance-themed TV shows and films proved that children were interested in dance, so the regional McDonald's gave Tierney the go-ahead.


What better way to announce a dance contest than by partnering with an urban contemporary radio station? The Tierney team leveraged a longstanding relationship between the regional McDonald's and the area's Power 99 FM for promotions.

Tierney's team started reaching out to media, with the radio station also mentioning the contest on-air. A direct-mail initiative targeted 474 dance schools, talent scouts, and other youth groups in the region. Applications and rules were available through local press, McDonald's restaurants, dance schools and camps, and on the Power 99 website.

As a first-run event, Tierney had to handle everything, from production to correspondence with dancers, from the ground up. Once finalists were chosen, outreach changed from call-to-entry to attendance solicitation.

The firm organized for the final event to be held at a Center City Philadelphia shopping mall. The 10 finalists performed in front of a panel of four local judges, including the captain of the Philadelphia 76ers dance team and a McDonald's marketing supervisor.


More than 600 dancers entered the contest, and about 1,000 people attended the Extreme Dance Challenge event. The first-place winner received $5,000 and an opportunity to perform at a local cultural celebration. Second- and third-place winners also won cash prizes. In addition, the campaign generated 2.3 million media impressions, as of mid-September.

Whitsett adds that the effort achieved a more overarching goal. "It definitely got 600 kids up and moving," she says.


Tierney is planning for a second dance contest in 2006, preparing to present an outline to the regional McDonald's soon.

While nothing has been cemented yet, Norton is confident that the contest will develop into a positive community fixture.

"We feel that as the years go on ... the participation will probably grow," he says.

PR team: Tierney Communications (Philadelphia) and McDonald's Restaurants of the Greater Philadelphia Region
Campaign: McDonald's Extreme Dance Challenge
Time frame: April to August 2005
Budget: $27,100

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