January 26, 2010

Not Lovin’ It

I am not a person inclined to rail against materialism, but rampant materialism was at least partly responsible for my being upset when I visited my local McDonald’s for breakfast this morning. In front on the cash register—actually, I’m not sure which side of the cash register is considered the front—was a small sign that said “gift an Arch Card” over a picture of a prepaid McDonald’s cash card.

My first reaction to the sign was to object to the use of “gift” as a verb. Why turn a noun into a verb when a perfectly serviceable verb, namely “give,” is readily available? Moreover, there was no reason that I could see, neither grammatical nor graphical, why the first word on the sign should not be capitalized.

I then began to think more deeply about the use of “gift.” Perhaps there is a semantic difference between “to give” something and “to gift” something. Whereas “giving” stress an act, usually one of generosity—one can give a cold or give heartburn to someone, however—“gifting” emphasizes the (usually material) thing that is given. McDonald’s, apparently, is not so much interested in encouraging generosity as it is in marketing the Arch Card. In this, McDonald’s isn’t much different from most other merchants, though it is perhaps more crass about it.

A visit to the McDonald’s Web site gave me more insight into the marketing of the Arch Card. On the Arch Card page, I found the following text, along with explanations under each heading:
  • load it.
  • gift it.
  • love it.
  • track it.
Under “gift it.” was the following: “Givin’ is good. Perfect for business, fun holidays, birthdays, or just because.” The word “business” was linked to a corporate order form. Although I was happy to learn that McDonald’s thinks that “givin’” is good, perhaps McDonald’s believes that the real money to be made is in corporate sales of the card. Corporations are less interested in the goodness of “givin’” and more concerned about the benefits they might reap from giving away trinkets such as Arch Cards. No sentimentality here!

The aforementioned page also led me to realize that the lack of initial capitals is a graphical style recently adopted by McDonald’s. Before now, I had not noticed that the new McDonald’s tagline begins with a lowercase letter. In fact, “i’m lovin’ it” manages to violate two grammatical rules in just the first character.

I’m not “lovin’” McDonald’s corporate folksiness, either, but I’ll spare you that diatribe.


Note: “Arch Card” and “i’m lovin’ it” are registered tradmarks of McDonald’s Corporation.

1 comment:

  1. One of our internal memos at starbucks instructs us to "leverage the occasion of Valentine's Day," in order to sell instant coffee. We are also supposed to be able to "speak to" our mission statement. Business-speak is a horrible affliction. Speak plainly and I am more likely to do what you want. All this round-about language does not mask the sense of corporate overlords, it intensifies it.

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