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Corporate giants take a lot of negative hits, and this is especially true with McDonald's, but the company has hit upon a great idea with its latest campaign that rewards customers for being nice.

If you watched the Super Bowl you probably saw the commercial highlighting the company's "Pay With Lovin" campaign. Customers are surprised when they are told the price of their meal is a family hug, a call to a loved one or some other act of kindness.

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McDonald's is likely banking on the fact that the campaign will bring in more customers, but the fact that it is rewarding people for acts of kindness, so the lovin they spread is going to go much further than any advantages to their bottom line.

Conventional wisdom and even some popular polls suggest that we've all become too cynical, too self-centered and too myopic in our views. The Internet has done wonders to allow people to expand their knowledge with the click of a mouse. But sadly, too many of us use it only to reinforce our own already established beliefs.

We compound the issue on social media, where the vast majority of those who we connect with are people who share our views. We aren't interested in hearing anything contrary to our own established beliefs, and we don't take it too well when someone tries to tell us that we might be wrong.

A Pew Research Center poll last June found that we are more divided along ideological lines than we have been at any time in more than 20 years. According to Pew, "Partisan animosity has increased substantially over the same period. In each party, the share with a highly negative view of the opposing party has more than doubled since 1994. Most of these intense partisans believe the opposing party's policies 'are so misguided that they threaten the nation's well-being.'"

Think about that for a second.

We don't just think we are right and others with a different view are wrong. We think we are right, they are wrong and their ideas "threaten the nation's well-being."

When you think that those who don't happen to agree with you are causing harm to the country, you probably aren't going to be too anxious to hear them out. On top of that, you probably are going to hold them in some degree of contempt.

Advertisers collect data on people as a way to target potential customers and increase sales. That's why all the ads on your social media pages, and many of the ones on the websites you visit are for products that somehow relate to something you previously posted.

Just like the average users who gather like-thinking people around them in their online social networks, advertisers also capitalize on the technology to target their ads to you.

People who share their "Pay With Love" experience through social media will expand McDonald's reach and increase their customer base. McDonald's will likely get a lot of positive publicity through social media because of the campaign, a welcome change to the hits it takes for what it pays workers or for the attacks it sustains from those encouraging more healthy eating habits. But beyond that, the more that these experiences are shared the greater the possibility that they might catch on, and perhaps more people will share the love with friends, family and even strangers as a way of paying the kindness forward.

There's way too much negativity in the world today; way too much focus on the things that separate us, and not enough on the things that bring us together. This latest McDonald's campaign could turn all that around, especially if other big corporations got into the act.

I don't expect to be able to walk in to a car dealership and get a free car for hugging a loved one, but perhaps they could offer a free oil change, or some other small token. If more big businesses decided to reward positive behaviors, there's no telling how far it could spread.

Corporate power, its influence on government, how deeply it reaches into our lives or invades our privacy are issues that have been in the headlines for years. Just think what could happen if the major corporations all turned their attention – and their advertising dollars – to promoting positive behaviors.

I have to admit I'm not a big customer of McDonald's or any other fast food restaurant, and their ad campaign isn't likely to change that. But I do hope the campaign is a success and that it catches on. We need less hostility and more lovin in the world today.

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Jim Lee is the Carroll County Times' Editor. Email him at jim.lee@carrollcountytimes.com.

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