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A Classroom Gets a Break

A surprise visit from McDonald’s leads to an ad, and an educational moment

| From BU Today | By Edward A. Brown

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When Judy Austin’s students showed up for their 8 a.m. Fundamentals of Communication class last month, they were not expecting free coffee.

So when servers from McDonald’s burst through the classroom doors 20 minutes into an intentionally drab lecture carrying trays of iced and hot coffee, the looks on faces ranged from shock to delight. As cameras, booms, and lights followed, it dawned on the students — they were being filmed for a television commercial.

“At first we thought it was just another promotional thing; you get free stuff all the time on college campuses,” says Taylor Hebble (CAS’11), a student who made the ad’s final cut. “When we realized it was a commercial, we were thrilled.”

“Any time you can bring something to life for the students, it increases the excitement of learning and deepens and enriches their experience,” says Austin, a College of Communication associate professor of communication. “It was an opportunity that doesn’t come along very often. As a teacher, I’m always looking for those things.”

As soon as she was approached about recording the ad, Austin realized its learning potential and negotiated behind-the-scenes access for her class. Students became subjects, then met with marketing professionals to learn how the production came together. Austin took the class to visit the production company a week later to check out postproduction, see a rough cut, and ask questions of the director and producer.

Hebble was amazed at how much work goes into such a short segment. “We were filming for 3 hours, and yet 8 seconds of the 18-second commercial is stock footage of the products themselves,” she says. “That means they had to tell the story, from bored students to ambush to the drinks and perked-up students, in 10 seconds.”

Comments posted in response to a story in the Boston Globe about the event implied that students might have been subtly coerced into participating, but Austin says she was not concerned that her students would feel pressured and she thought the educational opportunity would be hugely appealing. Hebble strongly backs up her professor.

“I don’t know where those comments are coming from. We weren’t tricked by McDonald’s or by BU,” she says. “We are all adults and were beyond thrilled. How many students, or professionals for that matter, can say they got to watch and seek advice from people at the top of their field, as well as being in a national ad campaign without having to audition? I would’ve done it for free.”

Each student signed a release form and was given a $25 iTunes giftcard. Since Hebble is featured on screen in the final cut, she also got a check for $592, the union standard, and will receive more in residuals, depending on how often McDonald’s uses her image. “As my mom told me, ‘It’s a good thing you didn’t skip class today,’” she says.

The experience also opened eyes to internship and job possibilities. “A number of students weren’t even aware these positions existed,” Austin says. “I think they now see there are job opportunities within the creative side of communication.”

Listen to Judith Austin, a COM associate professor of communication, talk about a unique class experience.

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On 17 November 2009 at 11:14 AM, Anonymous (COM) wrote:

You people are ridiculous. This commercial has helped make being a poor college student a little easier, because I actually got paid for it and am able to continue my career path in advertising with REAL LIFE EXPERIENCE. For those of you who think you know what real life is and how life should be introduced to students, think again. You are scared of something new and exciting.

On 27 September 2009 at 5:57 AM, Bud Lake (SMG'96) wrote:

This exercise and its resulting discussion and trip to the production studio is 100% relevant to these students education as communications professionals. They have learned that things don't have to always be done the traditionally way - in education or in advertising. Also, FYI I read in an article last week that McDonalds is the largest seller of apples in the US with an estimate 54 million pounds sold annually.

On 26 September 2009 at 8:21 PM, Jason Johnson (COM'07) wrote:

It's always interesting that everyone thinks they're an expert on advertising just because they watch TV and see billboards on their way to work. I was an advertising grad student at BU and had a number of classes from Professor Austin. She is excellent, cares for her students and lets them experience the real world as much as possible. I would have welcomed the same opportunity during my time at school along with my fellow grads. I didn't see any mention of BU in the ad itself. Not sure why many of you are so worked up about it. Makes me laugh to think that you actually believe that college students are never tired or bored in class. As far as promoting coffee and unhealthy eating, I'd worry more about Dunkin Donuts than McDonald's in Boston. Seeing as how there seems to be one every two blocks. Maybe you people could use a little sugar to sweeten your sad attitudes. Nice job Professor Austin. Keep up the good work.

On 23 September 2009 at 10:55 AM, Dr. Edward Glinski (CAS'63) wrote:

In 1960 Tetley Tea wanted to make a commercial involving the Freshman Crew Team with Coach Kim Bassett ( now deceased ) on the Charles River. The University under the direction of the late President Case rejected the proposal. I guess times have changed!

On 15 September 2009 at 8:19 PM, Carol Cooper Cartmell (SON '73) wrote:

My 1973 nursing instructors would never have allowed this kind of student exploitation in the classroom. And none of my classmates in any of my nursing classes looked so bored, disinterested, and tired so early in the morning.

On 13 September 2009 at 11:08 AM, Mariamercedes Ibarra-Rivera (SPH'04) wrote:

I am also appalled. It is irresponsible of our Institution and Professors to lend our classrooms and students to portray in a positive light the consumption of sugar-loaded beverages at 8am.

On 12 September 2009 at 12:54 AM Chris O'Meara (COM'87) wrote:

"Classroom Gets A Break"... no give me a break! I agree with the previous posters that this is a disgusting exploitation of naive students! Really? You have to take advantage of half asleep students in a 8 am class in order to get them some "real world experience"? How about a field trip to a production facility like we have done for years! You know that many companies are willing to do that without ambushing them into their productions. And I also agree with Michael - Prof. Yaeger would never have stooped to such levels! Apparently, he is missed more than any of us could imagine! Shame on Prof. Austin and shame on BU!!!!

On 11 September 2009 at 8:36 PM, Chuck Tarver (COM'75) wrote:

Great! Good to see COM is still taking part in innovative activities and giving student the benefit of real experience.

On 11 September 2009 at 3:48 PM, Nancy L Hoffman, RN ('75) wrote:

Why would you promote McDonalds that creates so much obsesity and such bad nutrition....this is disgusting and I am mostly distressed to be part of this campaign.....you should be ashamed of yourselves!

On 11 September 2009 at 12:25 PM, cheri ellis campbell (SPC'68) wrote:

sad that we've got to over think all the angles (not that i don't teach deep/critical thinking)...in my UW mass com classes, i suggest stealth advertising, of which this is a variation, is the next big thing to cut thru the clutter...so sounds like a good event...my present class is plotting an 'improv everywhere' type psa, perhaps flu prevention in our union...

...and to the last comment, the sad fact is sometimes college education IS boring...but the best of us try to mix it up SOMETIMES to keep these kids with sesame street expectations in the zone. every one of us (including educators) has to find optimal ways to get messages out there...isn't that the point of COMMUNICATION classes???

On 10 September 2009 at 9:55 AM, Michael Taylor (COM'83) wrote:

So, let me get this straight... The instructor, Judy Austin, put her students into a multi-million dollar commercial campaign, manipulating them to sign releases by ambushing them in the excitement. She got them iTunes cards (effectively working for free) while she reaped the benefits of full union scale plus residuals. Shame on her and shame on BU for allowing these young people to be duped without proper negotiation or scale pay.. Obviously Ms. Austin is no Murray Yaeger. Again, shame on BU. This certainly was a learning experience for the students on scams and a learning experience for anyone considering BU as a school to send their kids. What has happened to COM and BU?

On 10 September 2009 at 5:43 PM, Stacey Schwartz (SMG'81) wrote:

Huh? Your article is very confusing... it was a COM class... shot in a SMG classroom... it was Judy Austin's class... but there was a man teaching the class... I repeat... Huh!?!? I understand that this is a commercial and not photojournalism... but if it was Judy's class where is she? Was it OK for her students to be on filmed and on TV, but not her?

On 10 September 2009 at 5:43 PM, David Gapp (GRS'77) wrote:

I'm not too keen on BU serving as a backdrop for advertising by a food corporation that, at the very least, is suspect in providing food of dubious quality, especially in light of the obesity epidemic in our country.

On 10 September 2009 at 3:36 PM, Ginny Jones (SAR'86) wrote:

As a vocational rehabilitation counselor, trained at BU, I am excited about Austin's creativity in exposing her students to a rich experience. Taking students from sterile academia to real life will help them in their careers for years to come. Hope to see more of this.

On 10 September 2009 at 2:24 PM, Mary Fuller (MET'04) wrote:

Lame. You've succeeded as presenting college education as boring and multinational conglomerate caffine pushers as exciting... sort of. It's not even a very good commercial. Hopefully the students benefited from the experience somehow. At least they got coffee.

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