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Posts Tagged ‘Happy Meal’

Is McDonald’s Selling What It Advertises to Kids?

Monday, October 7th, 2013

by Cara Wilking, J.D.

Since 2008, national advertising for McDonald’s Happy Meals has not depicted soda as per a self-regulatory pledge made to the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI). In a recent pledge with the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, McDonald’s stated that it will not display soda company logos in the children’s section of its restaurant menu boards or otherwise promote or feature soda, but soda will remain on the children’s menu. This seems to be a huge public admission that McDonald’s has no plans to actually take soda off of its children’s menu. Almost five years after McDonald’s began implementation of its CFBAI pledge its in-store children’s menu offerings still do not match the Happy Meal combinations it advertises to the public.

In July of 2011, I wrote about the fact that McDonald’s CFBAI pledge had not translated into its healthier options becoming its most popular or commonly sold options (a fact later confirmed by McDonald’s). At that time, meal combinations with french fries and a 12 oz. soda were the most popular Happy Meal combinations. Two years later, soda is still on the children’s menu. In order to truly improve the nutritional profile of the meals it actually sells, McDonald’s needs to do the same thing with beverages that it did with its french fries. Change the default. When a parent orders a Happy Meal the clerk should ask, “milk, apple juice or water.” Its CGI pledge does not accomplish that and evinces a potentially huge disconnect between what McDonald’s advertises and what it is actually selling to children and their parents.

 



McDonald’s Repeatedly Violates CARU Premium Guideline

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

In response to a recent study finding that nationally televised fast food television advertisements to children by McDonald’s and Burger King from 2009-2010 focused primarily on toys, movie tie-ins and branding, CARU Director Wayne Keeley stated that “[b]oth companies have always respected CARU’s recommendations by discontinuing the challenged ads, and pledged to take into account CARU’s recommendations in their future advertising,” and went on to note that there haven’t been any recent cases involving either of the two companies.

A look at CARU case reports tells a different story. Since 2005, McDonald’s Corporation has been cited by CARU six times for violations of its premium guideline. Just one of these cases, from Sept 2012, was decided in McDonald’s favor. The most recent CARU case against the company in December 2012 found the premium guideline had been violated. Each time McDonald’s pledged to take CARU guidelines into consideration in future advertisements. Burger King also was found to have violated CARU’s premium guideline in 2011.

CARU

A list of CARU case reports. Click on the image above to view a larger version.



New study finds McDonald’s and Burger King responsible for 99% of fast-food television ads for kids, suggests industry’s efforts to self-regulate its marketing practices are ineffective

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Fast-food companies emphasize toy giveaways and movie tie-ins rather than food products when marketing to kids on television, which suggests that industry is not abiding by its self-regulatory pledges for child-directed marketing, according to a study co-authored by the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law. The study, “How Television Fast Food Marketing Aimed at Children Compares with Adult Advertisements,” is published in PLOS ONE and found that among ads for children’s meals, toy giveaways appeared in 69 percent of ads and movie tie-ins were used in 55 percent of ads.

“Fast-food companies use free toys and popular movies to appeal to kids and their ads are much more focused on promotions, brands, and logos—not on the food,” said James Sargent, Professor of Pediatrics at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the lead author of the study. “These are techniques that the companies’ own self-regulatory body calls potentially misleading and it’s a clear sign that they’re not living up to their pledges about marketing to kids.”

Sargent and his colleagues examined all nationally televised ads for children’s meals by leading fast-food restaurants for one year, from July 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. They compared ads for kids with ads for adults from the same companies to assess whether self-regulatory pledges for food marketing to children had been implemented.

 Key findings include:

Leaders of the food and beverage industry have publicly recognized the need to reform marketing practices targeting children. In 2006, the Council of Better Business Bureaus launched the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), a voluntary pledge by major U.S. food manufacturers to advertise only healthier products to young children. McDonald’s and Burger King participate in the CFBAI. Both companies also have pledged to abide by marketing guidelines set by the Children’s Advertising Review Unit, which include a provision stating that food—not toys or other promotions—should be the primary focus of ads directed at kids.

“This study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that there’s a big gap between what industry has promised and what they’re actually doing when it comes to marketing to kids,” said Cara Wilking, J.D. of the Public Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law. “There comes a point when intervention by a regulatory body like the Federal Trade Commission or state Attorneys General is needed to address self-regulatory failures. These findings suggest we’ve reached it with respect to fast food marketing to kids.”

A recent report by the Federal Trade Commission found that among all U.S. food and beverage companies, fast-food companies spent the most on marketing directed at youths ages 2 to 17—more than $714 million in 2009. The report also found that fast-food companies have dramatically increased their spending on television ads and new media targeting kids ages 2 to 11. Further analysis of that report shows while some fast-food restaurants slightly improved the nutritional quality of kids’ meals, the number of child-directed television ads for other higher-calorie meals and menu items more than doubled from 2006 to 2009.

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PHAI Publishes Legal Issue Brief on Digital Viral Food Marketing to Kids

Friday, March 8th, 2013

viral_digital_food_marketing_brief_graphic

Food companies used viral digital marketing tactics, such as “tell-a-friend” web campaigns, to induce children to share e-mail addresses of their friends and spread brand advertising of unhealthy foods among their peers.  Even very young children are targeted by these campaigns, which may be considered unfair and deceptive and in violation of state consumer protection laws.

PHAI has prepared a legal issue brief on this topic for state attorneys general as well as stakeholders in children’s health and privacy.  The brief explains the tactics that are used and suggests ways that they can be addressed, particularly under state law.

This work was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Healthy Eating Research Program (#69293).



PHAI joins the Center for Digital Democracy and others in complaint to FTC over children’s websites’ “Tell-A-Friend” tactics

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Today the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston has joined a coalition of children’s, health, privacy and consumer advocacy organizations in a complaint to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission against several children’s websites for violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The offending children’s websites use a “Tell-A-Friend” feature to induce children to provide e-mail addresses of their peers.  The websites involved include McDonald’s HappyMeal.com, General Mills’ ReesesPuffs.com and TrixWorld.com, Doctor’s Associates’ SubwayKids.com, Viacom’s Nick.com, and Turner Broadcasting’s CartoonNetwork.com.

The Tell-A-Friend tactic uses a game or other child-targeted activity as a way to engage children in an immersive  marketing experience and then directs users to share the activity with friends by entering multiple e-mail addresses.  Those children will receive an e-mail that may or may not appear to be from their friend urging them to go to a child-targeted marketing website. This viral marketing tactic creates and reinforces brand awareness providing value to the advertiser.  All of this occurs without prompts for any parental consent and, in McDonald’s case, may involve distributing a photograph of the child taken by webcam to recipients of the e-mail message.

Mark Gottlieb, Executive Director of PHAI, noted that, “COPPA was enacted by Congress to protect children under 13 from divulging any personal information to commercial interests on the Internet without the consent of a parent. By inducing young kids to provide the e-mail addresses of their peers, the companies involved here are certainly violating the spirit of COPPA and, it would appear, the letter of the law as well through these “Tell-A-Friend” practices.  This is something that state attorneys general could also investigate under their consumer protection authority because these tactics are unfair and deceptive.”

In addition to the Center for Digital Democracy which has published the complaints on its website, PHAI was joined by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, Center for Media Justice, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Children Now, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Watchdog, ChangeLab Solutions, Global Action Project, Media Literacy Project, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Public Citizen, and the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University.



The Cost of McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

By Cara Wilking, Staff Attorney

The passage of San Francisco’s Healthy Food Incentives Ordinance and McDonald’s recent decision to “comply” with the law by charging 10 cents in order to be able to include toys with meals that do not meet minimal nutritional criteria has engendered a lot of public debate. The following table summarizes information from a 2005 Massachusetts Appellate Tax Board decision with Happy Meal cost information from the period between 1999 and 2001:

Toy, Food, Condiment & Paper Costs to McDonald’s Restaraunts of Massachusetts (1999-2001) in US Dollars

 

Hamburger Happy Meal

Cheese-burger Happy Meal

4-piece McNugget Happy Meal

Happy Meal Toy Only

Toy cost

0.43

0.4299

0.4299

0.43

Food cost

0.3104

0.3561

0.4147

 

Condiment cost

0.0162

0.0162

0.0476 (average)

 

Paper cost

0.0434

0.0340

0.049

 

Total cost

0.8000

0.8362

0.9412

 

Menu Price

1.99

2.39

2.69

1.69

For the periods covered, McDonald’s reported that it paid its toy supplier 43 cents per toy. The total cost to McDonald’s for the toy and packaging of the Happy Meals was greater than the cost of food for each Happy Meal type. McDonald’s included a toy with every Happy Meal and sold the toys separately for a retail price of $1.69. The company  noted that it had a dedicated key on its registers in order to process separate toy sales.

In an issue advertisement run by McDonald’s explaining its 10 cent Happy Meal toy plan, the company wrote: “we feel a responsibility to our customers – including parents…who would like to have the option of purchasing…[a toy] separately for their kids.” In reality, prior to the ordinance all customers, including parents, had the option to purchase a toy separate from a Happy Meal. To comply with the letter and the spirit of San Francisco’s ordinance, McDonald’s could have stopped putting toys in with Happy Meals that did not meet nutritional criteria. Customers wanting to buy a toy separately, including parents, would then be treated as they always have been—rung up using the dedicated register key and charged the retail price of the toy.

The good news is that, as Michele Simon points out, there is an easy legal fix to the 10 cent toy strategy. In the short term, McDonald’s response amounts to an incredible missed opportunity to break away from a business model whereby the inedible portion of its children’s meals cost more to produce than the edible portion. The cost spent on toys could be spent to improve the nutritional profile of its children’s menu. The result could have been less trash in the form of discarded toys, a boon to fruit and vegetable producers all over the United States who supply McDonald’s, and, most importantly, healthier kids.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT PESTER POWER MARKETING STRATEGIES PLEASE SEE OUR PESTER POWER ISSUE BRIEF.



Coca-Cola Unscathed by Happy Meal Changes?

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

1.3 ounces of french fries are out. Caramel dipping sauce is out. A few apple slices are in. Sugary drinks, however, appear to be fully in the mix if not more so now. The 12 oz. “child’s size” Happy Meal soft drink, ranging from 110-120 calories for the non-diet carbonated options, remains the same. The new chocolate milk option has 170 calories and 25 grams of sugar. To put that into perspective, the container of caramel dipping sauce that will no longer be offered has 70 calories and 9 grams of sugar. As the fountain syrup supplier for McDonald’s, The Coca-Cola Company must be rather pleased that McDonald’s made no overt change to its default drink option for its “most popular” Happy Meal combinations–soda. Chocolate milk may compete with soda, but  for parents concerned about calories McDonald’s has managed to position its Coca-Cola brand Happy Meal soda offerings as lower calorie alternatives to the flavored milk. Makes one wonder whether The Coca-Cola Company is whistling “badda ba, ba ba, I’m lovin’ it” in response to McDonald’s Happy Meal menu changes.



McDonald’s Happy Meals with Soda & Fries Still the “Most Popular” Meal Combinations

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

 

by Cara Wilking, J.D.

The National Restaurant Association announced last week  that a number of chain restaurants will be offering healthier children’s meal menu options. McDonald’s has opted not to participate in the initiative.  Likely it will point to the fact that it already offers apple slices and milk and that it only advertises the healthier versions of its Happy Meals. These steps, however, do not appear to have translated into making its healthier Happy Meal combinations its most popular Happy Meal combinations.

In a letter dated June 7, 2011, McDonald’s touted its range of children’s menu options and included fact sheets providing nutritional information for its children’s meals. The fact sheets feature six Happy Meal combinations and state that the meal combinations pictured “represent two advertised meals, three most popular meals and Cheeseburger, Apple Dippers and low-fat milk meal.” According to McDonald’s  Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative advertising pledge its “advertised meals” are the 4-piece Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal with apple dippers, low fat caramel dip and a jug of 1% low fat white milk and the Hamburger Happy Meal with apple dippers, low fat caramel dip and a jug of 1% low fat white milk. By process of elimination, the three “most popular” meal combinations emerge as:

The three most popular combinations include french fries and soda despite the fact that McDonald’s only advertises combinations with apple slices and milk.  This is most likely because these less healthy options remain the default when filling Happy Meal orders. If McDonald’s is serious about child health it should take real measures to ensure that its healthiest Happy Meal options become its most popular options.

*McDonald’s was contacted last week to confirm this interpretation of its fact sheets and has yet to do so.




Copyright 2003-2014 Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) at
Northeastern University School of Law