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New PHAI study in AJPH focuses on the tobacco industry’s use of personal responsibility rhetoric, how its legal defense strategies inform its public relations messaging

Friday, March 27th, 2015

According to a newly published study co-authored by Lissy Friedman, Daniel Givelber, Mark Gottlieb and Richard Daynard of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law and Andrew Cheyne of Berkeley Media Studies Group, the tobacco industry honed and developed a legal strategy that blamed its customers for their smoking-related injuries, and applied this effective and persuasive personal responsibility frame to its public relations messages. The article is entitled “Tobacco Industry Use of Personal Responsibility Rhetoric in Public Relations and Litigation: Disguising Freedom to Blame as Freedom of Choice.”

Friedman and her co-authors examined the tobacco industry’s use of personal responsibility arguments to avoid its own responsibility for the harm its products cause. In examining the specific language and rhetoric Big Tobacco employs, the study found that the industry rarely uses the phrase “personal responsibility” explicitly, but rather the expression “freedom of choice.” When the industry uses the term “freedom of choice” in the context of litigation, it means that those who choose to smoke are solely to blame for their injuries. When the phrase is used in the industry’s public relations messages, it grounds its meaning in the concept of liberty and the right to smoke. The study examines and illustrates how courtroom “blame rhetoric” has influenced the tobacco industry’s larger public relations message to shift responsibility away from the tobacco companies and onto their customers.

Understanding the rhetoric and framing that the tobacco industry employs is essential to combating this tactic, and can be applied to other industries that act as disease vectors. Industries who manufacture and sell products that pose a threat to public health, such as junk food, sugar-sweetened beverages, alcohol, dirty energy and electronic gambling machines, have adopted Big Tobacco’s well-developed strategy for staving off regulation, litigation liability, and social denormalization and stigmatization. The lessons learned from studying the tobacco industry’s use of personal responsibility rhetoric can contribute to developing a broader movement to use public health advocacy and interventions to change corporate malfeasance and behavior that threatens the public’s health.

Citation:  Lissy C. Friedman, Andrew Cheyne, Daniel Givelber, Mark A. Gottlieb, and Richard A. Daynard. Tobacco Industry Use of Personal Responsibility Rhetoric in Public Relations and Litigation: Disguising Freedom to Blame as Freedom of Choice. American Journal of Public Health: February 2015, Vol. 105, No. 2, pp. 250-260.
doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302226



Copycat Snacks Undermine School Nutrition

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

Today, the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law, is releasing the issue brief Copycat Snacks in Schools on the food industry’s recent push to market popular junk food brands in schools. As noted in today’s New York Times story by Michael Moss entitled “The Domino’s Smart Slice Goes To School,” PHAI has called upon the USDA to address branded junk food marketing in schools. Starting July 1, 2014, all foods sold outside of the National School Lunch Program, such as food from vending machines and school stores, will have to meet United States Department of Agriculture “Smart Snacks” nutrition criteria. Not wanting to lose an in-school marketing opportunity, major food companies like PepsiCo are producing reformulated versions of popular junk foods like Cheetos® and Doritos® that meet the Smart Snacks criteria, but use the same brand names, logos and spokescharacters as are used to market traditional junk food.

For example, PepsiCo produces and markets to school food service directors a product called Cheetos® Flamin’ Hot Puffs Reduced Fat. This product meets the USDA Smart Snack guidelines, but it is not widely available for retail purchase outside of schools. Instead, PepsiCo offers Cheetos® Flamin’ Hot Puffs to the broader public. As you can see below, the product packaging is almost identical.

 

Cheetos Combined

Copycat snacks like reduced fat versions of Cheetos® products are not widely available for purchase outside of schools and are clearly designed to co-market traditional junk food to children in school. The issue brief describes copycat snacks, how they undermine nutrition education efforts, and what can be done to stop the sale and marketing of these products in schools.



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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Banned In the Cage: How Xyience and NOS Unfairly and Deceptively Market Energy Drinks

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013

by Cara Wilking, J.D., Rebecca Leff and Katelyn Blaney

NOS can

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has its roots in “cage-fighting” and was long considered too wild and violent for mainstream sports fans. Not long ago cage-fighting was shunned by parents, banned by states and rejected by broadcast networks and cable operators for its brutality. While cage-fighting remains outlawed in some states, it has been recast as mixed martial arts (MMA). UFC has successfully migrated from pay-per-view television to the Fox Television broadcast network. Despite the UFC’s efforts to rehabilitate its image, bouts are still held in an eight-sided cage (called the “octagon”) where fighters’ blood is commonly spilled. The UFC has an official energy drink called Xyience Energy. NOS energy drink (a Coca-Cola Company product) sponsors MMA champion Georges St-Pierre and has built an ad campaign around the UFC champion. UFC fighters appear on cans of Xyience, attend promotional events and wear the Xyience logo. According to the president of Xyience, UFC fans, who are two thirds male, between the ages of 21 and 34 are the company’s target demographic.

Energy Drinks Are Associated with Increased Risk-Taking, Including Fighting

Energy drink composition, marketing and consumption are currently under investigation by state and federal regulators. Energy drink consumption has been linked to adverse health events including caffeine intoxication, dehydration and even death. Moreover, a 2008 study found that frequent energy drink consumption by young adults, particularly young white males, was positively associated with risk-taking including fighting. The study concluded that energy drink consumption is closely associated with problem behavior syndrome. The group the study found to be most at risk overlaps with Xyience’s target demographic.

Six States and the Association of Ringside Physicians Ban the Use of Stimulant Drinks During MMA Fights

UFC champion Ronda Rousey holding a can of Xyience in the ring after a bout in California.

UFC champion Ronda Rousey holding a can of Xyience after a 2013 bout in California.

In order to protect the safety of combatants, Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin ban the use of energy drinks during professional or amateur mixed martial arts bouts.  Click here for a legal summary of these policies.  State athletic commissions require that a physician be present ringside during mixed martial arts bouts. The Association of Ringside Physicians, a group created “to develop medical protocols and guidelines to ensure the safety and protection of Professional Boxers and MMA Athletes,” stipulates that “only water or an approved electrolyte drink by the Commission may be consumed during the bout,” and “[c]ontestants should not consume energy drinks on the date of the contest.”

The Cross-Promotion of UFC and Energy Drinks Is Unfair and Deceptive to Young Consumers

UFCPoster

This poster is featured on the Xyience website advertising a bout in Milwaukee Wisconsin. Wisconsin bans the use of energy drinks during MMA fights

Marketing energy drinks alongside cage-fighting warrants further investigation as a potentially unfair and deceptive trade practice under state and federal consumer protection law. A deceptive trade practice is a marketing tactic that is likely to mislead a reasonable member of the target audience and is material to the consumer’s decision to purchase the product. A reasonable member of the target audience of UFC fans would be misled into thinking that energy drinks are permissible during bouts. The reasonable consumer likely does not know that energy drinks are actually banned during bouts in six states and by the Association of Ringside Physicians. This omission is not easily discovered by consumers as one has to search state athletic commission regulations to find such information. The cross-promotion of UFC and energy drinks is material to the target demographic because there are a number of energy drinks on the market that do not cross-promote UFC. Placing the UFC logo or pictures of a UFC fighter on a can and sponsoring top UFC fighters is intended to drive UFC fans to select drinks like Xyience and NOS over other energy drinks.

Energy drink cross-promotion of UFC may also be considered an unfair trade practice in jurisdictions that focus on marketing that violates established public policies. As noted above, six states and the Association of Ringside Physicians ban the use of energy drinks during fights. Marketing that associates energy drink consumption with UFC violates these established public policies and presents a potential health harm to the target audience of consumers—a demographic of energy drink users research has shown already is susceptible to engaging in risky behavior like fighting.

Energy Drinks and Fighting Don’t Mix

Xyience and NOS should abandon their association with UFC and MMA. Current marketing campaigns are unfair and deceptive to the target audience of consumers. Consumers deserve the same protections six states and the Association of Ringside Physicians extended to professional and amateur MMA athletes when they banned the use of energy drinks during bouts.



Major Energy Drink Makers Don’t Play By Their Own Rules

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Cara Wilking, J.D.EDpic

Today, the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, released a report entitled Energy Drink Self-Regulation chronicling the ways in which major energy drink makers openly violate the self-regulatory guidelines issued by their own trade association, the American Beverage Association (ABA).  A review of energy drink marketing, promotion, and employee recruiting materials from 2012 found that despite self-regulatory pledges to the contrary, energy drinks are promoted as mixers with alcoholic beverages and often marketed in ways that foster confusion with sports drinks. Energy drink makers have come under growing scrutiny by state and federal regulators as reports of irresponsible marketing practices and adverse health events associated with energy drink consumption have come to light. The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation will hold a hearing on Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 2:30 p.m. titled, “Energy Drinks: Exploring Concerns About Marketing to Youth.”  Major energy drink makers were asked to submit information about marketing to youth in advance of the hearing. PHAI’s findings reveal that regulatory oversight is needed as self-regulatory pledges are not being complied with.

Market Leader Red Bull Openly Violates ABA Marketing Guidelines

Two of the ABA’s core self-regulatory principles are to refrain from marketing energy drinks as mixers for alcoholic beverages and to not market energy drinks as sports drinks. Red Bull is the leading energy drink company. Red Bull trains its sales staff to market Red Bull as a mixer to bars and clubs, through distribution of point of sale materials like Red Bull branded mini-fridges, bar mats and neon signs, and training bartenders how to execute the “Perfect Serve” a standardized way to serve a Red Bull and vodka drink. Red Bull also trains its guerilla marketing staff, called its Wings Team, to deliver Red Bull to parties on college campuses. “Red Bull’s total disregard for its own trade associations’ marketing guidelines, exposes the guidelines as nothing more than a paper tiger and makes clear the need for real regulation in this area,” said Cara Wilking, senior staff attorney at PHAI.

The ABA Should Stop Misleading the Public

The ABA acknowledged the dangers of combining alcohol with caffeinated beverages and marketing energy drinks as sports drinks when it issued its energy drink marketing guidelines. The ABA routinely references the guidelines when energy drinks are publicly criticized. In light of this report, to continue to tout its self-regulatory guidelines for energy when its member companies so openly violate them is potentially misleading to the public and regulators. “All of the information contained in the report released today is publicly available. Even the slightest accountability measures by the ABA would have found that two of its major recommendations are not being followed,” said Cara Wilking senior staff attorney of PHAI.



For Many Living With Limb Loss, “Open Happiness” Doesn’t Ring True

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

by Cara Wilking, JD

As part of its 2012 Olympic Games marketing blitz, the Coca-Cola Company has assembled a “Coca-Cola 8-pack of Athletes” to  “serve as Coca-Cola ‘Ambassadors of Active Living’ to help encourage and inspire people to lead active, balanced lives.”[1] This group includes Jessica Long, a 2012 U.S. Paralympic Swimming Team nominee.[2] Ms. Long was born with fibular hemimelia, a condition of the lower legs, and became a double leg amputee at 18 months old.[3] Ms. Long’s athletic achievements are undeniable and her seamless inclusion in the marketing campaign is in line with equality and dignity for all. The tragic reality of lower limb loss, however, is that the majority of people suffering from non-traumatic lower limb loss are diabetic, and it is not medically appropriate for diabetics to consume sugar-sweetened beverages.

From what has been released of the campaign so far, the “Coca-Cola 8-Pack of Athletes” promotes full-sugar Coca-Cola. Ms. Long is no exception. Her commercial, entitled “Home,” shows her swimming as a child in her grand-parents’ backyard pool and moves through a range of global swim competitions.[4] The commercial ends with Ms. Long drinking from a bottle of full-sugar Coca-Cola. Cans of full-sugar Coca-Cola are shown next to the tagline “Open Happiness” and an announcer says, “Support our athletes with the Cola-Cola Olympic Series Collector’s Cans.” In other words, “Buy Coke!”

If one of the goals of Coca-Cola’s “8-pack of Athletes” campaign is to inspire people, including those suffering from limb loss, to lead active lives, then why does the campaign promote a product diabetics are under doctor’s orders to avoid?

Sugar-sweetened beverages like Coca-Cola are associated with obesity-related diseases including Type 2 Diabetes.[5] The Centers for Disease Control estimates that as many as 1 in 3 U.S. adults could have diabetes by 2050.[6] The links between diabetes and limb loss are stark and tragic:

As inspiring as Ms. Long’s journey is, for many people living with the loss of a limb there is no “happiness” to be found in a can of Coke—a fact the Coca-Cola Company seems to have overlooked.



[1] The Coca-Cola Company, Press Release, Coca-Cola Opens Happiness With Its New “8-Pack” of Athletes for London 2012 Olympic Games, May 17, 2011, http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/dynamic/press_center/2011/05/eight-pack-of-athletes-for-london-2012-olympic-games.html; and The Coca-Cola Company, Move To the Beat of London, http://www.coca-cola.com/theolympics/en-US (last visited June 28, 2012).

[2] Coke 2012 Olympics Commercial: Jessica Long “Home”, YouTube.com, June 19, 2012, CocaCola, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpFrYaL6N2w&feature=plcp (last visited June 27, 2012).

[3] About Jessica, GraceLong.com, http://www.gracelong.com/index.php/about (last visited June 27, 2012).

[4] Coke 2012 Olympics Commercial: Jessica Long “Home”, YouTube.com, June 19, 2012, CocaCola, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpFrYaL6N2w&feature=plcp (last visited June 27, 2012).

[5] Vasanti S. Malik et al, Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Obesity, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, and Cardiovascular Disease Risk, 12 Circulation, 1356-1364 (2010).

[6] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Press Release, Number of Americans with Diabetes Projected to Double of Triple by 2050, http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2010/r101022.html.

[7] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Diabetes Fact Sheet: National Estimates and General Information on Diabetes and Prediabetes in the United States, 2011, at 1, http://www.diabetes.org/in-my-community/local-offices/miami-florida/assets/files/national-diabetes-fact-sheet.pdf.

[8] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Diabetes Fact Sheet: National Estimates and General Information on Diabetes and Prediabetes in the United States, 2011, at 8, http://www.diabetes.org/in-my-community/local-offices/miami-florida/assets/files/national-diabetes-fact-sheet.pdf.

[9] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Living with Diabetes: Keeping Your Feet Healthy, http://www.cdc.gov/Features/DiabetesFootHealth/.

[10] Diabetes Statistics, American Diabetes Association, http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/diabetes-statistics/?loc=DropDownDB-stats (last visited June 27, 2012).

[11] Living with Diabetes: African Americans & Complications, American Diabetes Association, http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/african-americans-and-complications.html (last visited June 27, 2012).

[12] National Limb Loss Information Center, Minorities, Diabetes and Limb Loss (May 2008), http://www.amputee-coalition.org/fact_sheets/multicultural/all_groups.pdf (citing Robert Preidt, Blacks, Hispanics Hospitalized More Often for Diabetes, Heart Disease, HealthDay: News for Healthier Living, August 15, 2006.

[13] Kathryn Ziegler-Graham et al, Estimating the Prevalence of Limb Loss in the United States: 2005 to 2050, 89 Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 422, 424 (March 2008).



Health Groups Ask Federal Trade Commission to Investigate Merck’s Use of “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” Characters to Market Children’s Claritin®

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Cara Wilking, 617-373-5699

Today, the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, joined by 10 other organizations, sent a letter to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking that it investigate Merck & Co. Inc.’s  Madagascar 3-themed marketing campaign for its flagship pediatric allergy medication, Grape-Flavored Chewable Children’s Claritin®.

“Marketing medicine directly to children at all, much less through entertainment tie-ins, is well beyond the pale and is not only inherently unfair, it is downright dangerous,” said Mark Gottlieb, executive director of PHAI.

To promote its June release of the Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted movie, Dreamworks licensed its Madagascar characters to Grape-Flavored Children’s Claritin®. It also licensed the characters to market other children’s foods including fruit-flavored Airheads candy, General Mills (Betty Crocker) Fruit Snacks, and McDonald’s Happy Meals. The use of the same characters on candy and gummy snacks and Children’s Claritin® creates the impression that the medicine is candy and could lead children to over consume the product at great risk to their health.

claritinmadagascarThe FTC regulates over-the-counter (OTC) drug marketing and has protected children from marketing of vitamin supplements, and by extension OTC drugs, since 1977 when it found the use of Spider-Man to market vitamins to children to be unfair and deceptive (In re Hudson Pharmaceutical Corp., 89 F.T.C. 82 (1977)).

Merck’s campaign utilizes customized Madagascar 3 packaging including “5 Free Stickers.”with Madagascar 3 characters and containing “5 Free Stickers.” Mail-in movie ticket voucher promotions were prominently placed at retail outlets such as Walgreens and downloadable Children’s Claritin® Madagascar-themed activity games further targeted children. Merck also enlisted its “Children’s Claritin® Mom Crew” members to create social media buzz. Mom Crew members held Madagascar-themed viewing parties for children featuring product samples, coupons, DVD’s, popcorn containers and, Madagascar stickers and then featured the children’s parties on their blogs and websites.

Cara Wilking, a PHAI senior staff attorney who authored the letter, added, “the FTC stepped in and stopped this practice a generation ago. Apparently OTC drug-makers like Merck need to be reminded that targeting kids is unfair, deceptive, and unacceptable.”

PHAI, Berkeley Media Studies Group, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy, ChangeLab Solutions (formerly Public Health Law & Policy), Corporate Accountability International, Eat Drink Politics, Public Citizen, The Public Good Law Center, Public Health Institute and Prevention Institute request immediate action by the FTC to stop this practice before it becomes widespread.



PepsiCo Unfairly and Deceptively Targets Teens with Its “Win from Within” Gatorade Campaign

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

The Public Health Advocacy Institute has submitted a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requesting that it use its authority under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act to investigate PepsiCo’s current “Win from Within” commercial television advertisement and commercial website for its Gatorade sports drink product featuring Michael Jordan’s performance during game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals (hereinafter “Jordan Ad”) that he played while suffering from a fever and flu-like symptoms. This game is popularly referred to as the “Flu Game.”  The Jordan Ad depicts Mr. Jordan holding a Gatorade cup during the game and asserts that Gatorade was a key to his game-winning performance. Enforcement action is warranted because the Jordan Ad:

The “Win from Within” ad series is designed to target teens, and the campaign is intended to deliver sports nutrition information to teens. PepsiCo’s media buys for the Gatorade Jordan Ad also appear to target teens. The average U.S. teen (12-17 years) saw 1.85 of these ads during the first quarter of 2012, 22% more ads than adults saw. More than half of this exposure occurred on teen-targeted cable networks, including Adult Swim, Teen Nick, ABC Family, and MTV.

PepsiCo has put itself in the position of being a messenger of sports nutrition and health information to its core Gatorade product demographic of teens. There is already enormous pressure on teen athletes to win at all costs by practicing during extreme heat and playing through injuries. The Jordan Ad creates the distinct impression that so long as you are drinking Gatorade you should not sit out a game or stay home when you are seriously ill with a fever. This message contravenes the medical recommendations for people suffering from flu-like symptoms and fever and puts teens in danger. The FTC should order PepsiCo to engage in corrective advertising that advises teens to not engage in physical activity when they have the flu or are suffering from a fever, describes the dangers of competing in sports when ill, and clearly states that Gatorade is not intended to be used to enhance the athletic performance of teens who are suffering from the flu or a fever.

 

 

 

 



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.




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