Last week, video from a two-year-old newscast showing KTVI anchor Tim Ezell calling co-anchor April Simpson the Hamburglar went viral, two years after it first aired.
A few days later, the Hamburglar showed up on set with Simpson and gave out free burgers.
That same week, a Baltimore morning traffic reporter named Traffic Jam Jimmy was caught on-air seemingly unprepared for his live hit. The station stayed with Jimmy long enough to establish he was at a local drive through looking for a fish sandwich, but instead got an Egg McMuffin and a black coffee. A big McDonald’s bag is center screen on the back seat of his car.
So, what do the the videos have in common? McDonald’s.
Conspiracy? Maybe. But not in a french-fry flavored chemtrail sort of way. McDonald’s is losing its once-tight hold on America’s consciousness as the go-to family dining restaurant. In July, Adweek reported the company was taking some time to regroup and rebrand itself. McDonald’s said one of its strategies was to focus on social media, you know, to get the kids.
The Baltimore City Paper reports, “An anonymous source within Fox 45 could not confirm whether the McDonald’s incident was planned but says that management routinely has paid product placements on newscasts, including the Dunkin’ Donuts mug that is prominently displayed on the anchors’ desk. The source also says Jimmy Uhrin works with the sales department editing commercials after his gig as ‘Traffic Jam Jimmy.'”
Station manager Bill Fanshawe insists, “The shot was spontaneous, he was on the road since 4 a.m. in weather coverage. My understanding is that he was hungry.”
McDonald’s told TVSpy that they do have a partnership with Baltimore FOX affiliate WBFF, but denies the Traffic Jam Jimmy video was their idea. Here’s the statement from the golden arches:
The local McDonald’s restaurants in Baltimore do have an existing partnership with WBFF which encompasses a Friday “Morning Break with McDonald’s” contest however this was not a planned promotion with the local McDonald’s sponsorship. The McDonald’s bag in the back of Traffic Jam Jimmy’s vehicle was solely at his discretion and was not a part of an advertising agreement. We are thrilled that Traffic Jam Jimmy is a McDonald’s and Filet-O-Fish fan. He is a great face of the always charming and vibrant Baltimore community.
We asked Tribune, which owns KTVI, to comment about its Hamburglar videoas. We will update when we hear back.
Right now, we realize the product placements can be viewed as coincidental. But if you pair local TV stations, which are always willing to find new ways to re-invent their revenue streams, and a major corporation looking to re-capture the glory of its past youth without looking desperate, you can end up blurring the line between commerce and journalism.