Could the act of ordering a “McMuffin” be less dignified than it already is? Yep, says Kate Batchelder. Significantly less.

I wouldn’t need money today, [the cashier] explained, as I had been randomly chosen for the store’s “Pay with Lovin’ ” campaign, the company’s latest public-relations blitz, announced Sunday with a mushy Super Bowl TV commercial featuring customers who say “I love you” to someone, or perform other feel-good stunts, and are rewarded with free food. Between Feb. 2 and Valentine’s Day, the company says, participating McDonald’s locations will give away 100 meals to unsuspecting patrons in an effort to spread “the lovin’.”

If the “Pay with Lovin’ ” scenario looks touching on television, it is less so in real life. A crew member produced a heart-shaped pencil box stuffed with slips of paper, and instructed me to pick one. My fellow customers seemed to look on with pity as I drew my fate: “Ask someone to dance.” I stood there for a mortified second or two, and then the cashier mercifully suggested that we all dance together. Not wanting to be a spoilsport, I forced a smile and “raised the roof” a couple of times, as employees tried to lure cringing customers into forming some kind of conga line, asking them when they’d last been asked to dance.

The public embarrassment ended soon enough, and I slunk away with my free breakfast, thinking: Now there’s an idea that never should have left the conference room.

That’s a tougher dilemma than it seems at first. If you’re not up for dancing to earn your grub, what are your options realistically? You could insist on paying, but if the clerk resists, how long can you stand there arguing before your aversion to “fun” starts to look grumpy or even odd to the people around you? Walking out at that point would be even more draconian. The only play is to sigh deeply and do a little perfunctory softshoe with a forced “is this good enough?” smile on your face. And if you’re going to put customers in that position, why frame it as a matter of love? The campaign would be more fun if you framed it overtly as a matter of humiliation, like the “what would you do for a Klondike bar” ads. Any customer willing to debase themselves in whatever menial way that the cashier, within limits set by corporate HQ, proposes gets a free meal. That way, if you refuse, you’re declaring yourself to be anti-humiliation rather than anti-“fun.” (Or, worse, anti-love.)

Backfire potential here, via Reddit: High.

So as many of you might know McDonalds is doing the promotion of paying with love, I happened to be one of the lucky “winners” of this promotion. It was great a $15 Mckey’D’s food binge for free, man I coulnd’t believe my luck! They said all I had to do is call a family member and tell them “I love you”.

The start of the f***up is calling my mother who knows that I had a breif history with depression and suicidal thoughs from high school bullies, the second f***up is starting the call with I love you.

She immediatly started to freak out (mostly because I’m over 1000 miles away from her and the closest family is about 300 miles away from me) and was pretty scared that I was about to commit suicide. Over the course of the next 15 minuets I was on the phone reassureing her that I indeed wasn’t about to kill myself and make sure that she wasn’t on the next plane to arrive and come to visit. (Afterwards she also mentioned that it had given her a small asthma attack, but nothing her inhailer couldn’t handle)

Overall it wasn’t the worst thing that has happened, and the McDucks manager that was helping me thought it was so funny she paied for the other guys meal I was with along with handing me a handful of free sandwich coupons because it was the best laugh she has had at this job.

Explain the logic of this promotion to me. How many extra customers are being lured to the local McD’s on the off-chance that they’ll be chosen for a promotion that’ll likely involve them embarrassing themselves in front of a group of people? Is that number higher or lower than the number of shy McD’s customers who have resolved to avoid McDonald’s until after Valentine’s Day precisely so that they’re not chosen for this promotion? If you’re going to plan a campaign like this, the clever way to do it, I think, is to do it without announcing it publicly and let it spread by word of mouth. Tell the cashiers that if they see a genuine act of love from customers on line — a kiss, hug, whatever — those customers get their food free when they order. (Limit: One free meal per franchise per hour to keep costs down.) Those people will go home and post about it on Twitter, Reddit, etc, and pretty soon every couple or family who goes to McDonald’s will be holding hands when they enter the store, hoping that they’re the randomly selected lovin’ group that eats free. This way the love is kinda sorta genuine and you avoid putting customers on the spot. It’d work like a charm … until, after a few days, everyone gets grossed out watching kids making out in line in hopes of getting their Big Mac free. Oh well.