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A Classroom Gets a Break

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

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

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.”

For a quick preview, check out the ad, which airs nationwide on September 1.

Edward A. Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu.

1 Comments

One Comment on A Classroom Gets a Break

  • Anonymous on 08.27.2009 at 11:02 am

    just a curiosity

    How much money did McDeath donate to the COM to get approval for this?

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