In the week when New York City finally got around to banning trans fats, McDonald's touted its own healthy commitment with the introduction of a campaign to build in-restaurant gyms.
Since the company is currently struggling with its own transition away from the artery-clogging oil, cynics could allege the timing was suspect. But even if the announcement was timed around the trans fat decision, the company's gym construction should have a positive halo effect on its brand and the industry for some time.
The gyms, surely soon to be emulated by competitors, will feature exercise bikes, basketball hoops, and climbing apparatuses. While McDonald's has made efforts to enhance its menu in order to help serial patrons slim down, by cancelling the Super Size option and introducing gourmet salads and apple slices, it didn't become a global power by selling health food. Burgers and fries will always be the conglomerate's clarion to hungry families, but the gyms can help the restaurant chain seize upon its mandate to healthy living.
McDonald's has always favored aspirational marketing, often filming svelte diners enjoying Big Macs, showing no sign of overindulgence. In this marketing-through-inference strategy, its idealized patrons are active, urban, and youthful - the type of people who would welcome an in-restaurant gym for their children.
Critics have called these gyms "marketing tools" with a negative connotation. The gyms are absolutely marketing tools - and that approach should be applauded.
Rather than leave the "healthy" implications for 30-second spots, the company has taken its marketing to the physical world, striving to make that aspiration a reality. Its marketing goal is to have healthy patrons. In this particular case, McDonald's deserves some credit for its pursuit of truth in advertising.