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What does McDonald's do now with Cleveland hero Charles Ramsey?

The day he helped rescue three women in the Cleveland kidnapping case, Charles Ramsey couldn't stop talking about his McDonald's lunch. McDonald's took note. Now what does it do?

By Staff writer / May 14, 2013

Charles Ramsey speaks to media on May 6 near the home where missing women Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michele Knight were rescued in Cleveland.

Scott Shaw/The Plain Dealer/AP

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There’s no such thing as bad publicity, they say, but what about when your brand is associated with a tragic news event involving torture, rape, and kidnapping?

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That is the situation now facing McDonald’s, the fast-food burger chain that was name-dropped incessantly in the media after last week’s rescue of Michelle Knight, Gina DeJesus, and Amanda Berry from a Cleveland house where police say they were captive for 10 years. Charles Ramsey, a neighbor who rescued Ms. Berry and first alerted police, became an online folk hero when videos of him went viral.

Not only did Mr. Ramsey deliver colorful one-liners that instantly became fodder for meme creators, but, in describing how he happened upon Berry’s cries for help, he continually reminded interviewers he heard them when he was just minding his own business and enjoying a meal from – you guessed it – McDonald’s.

McDonald’s heard the call and last week issued a tweet telling Ramsey “way to go” and “we’ll be in touch.” The company followed up with a press release, saying it would “personally be reaching out to Mr. Ramsey directly as we said we would.”

When choosing to become involved in an international news event that involved such horror – Ariel Castro is charged with three counts of rape and four counts of kidnapping in the case – is there a good time or a bad time for a company to extend a helping hand?

To some brand marketers, it depends on the situation. Oreo, for example, earned raves after it swiftly sent a tweet in the moment following a blackout during the Super Bowl in New Orleans. It told followers: “You can still dunk in the dark.”

Other brands that were suddenly thrust into the national conversation this past year include Skechers (the boots a New York City police officer was photographed handing a homeless person in Times Square), Poland Spring (the water brand Marco Rubio reached for during his Republican rebuttal to the president's State of the Union speech), Skittles and Arizona Iced Tea (the items Trayvon Martin bought at a convenience store before his fatal confrontation with George Zimmerman), and Big Bird (name-checked by Mitt Romney during a presidential debate).

In all these cases, the companies were forced to respond in ways especially tailored to the situation. For example, after the Internet exploded with people’s admiration of police officer Larry DePrimo’s generosity in helping the homeless man stay warm with a pair of their boots, Skechers announced it was donating 50 pairs of insulated boots to a homeless shelter.

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