WASHINGTON - June 23 - Today our partners at the Center for Science in the Public
Interest have said enough is enough, notifying McDonald’s it will be
filing suit against the corporation if it does not halt using toys in
Happy Meals. CSPI’s notice letter says that McDonald’s toy-related
promotions violate state consumer protection laws in Massachusetts,
Texas, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, and California. CSPI’s
letter gives McDonald’s 30 days to agree to stop the practice before a
suit is filed.
McDonald’s has been in the hot seat of late for its long-standing
and pioneering practice of peddling junk food to children…especially
our very youngest children, for which predatory marketing is no less
Corporate Accountability International, its partners, and
supporters have called attention to the role such marketing is playing
in making our children sick by calling for an end to the use of the
world’s most recognized corporate mascot, Ronald McDonald. In so doing,
the organization has advocated for an end to the universe of
youth-oriented marketing practices in which Ronald is the center.
The human impact of McDonald’s predatory marketing is undeniable.
Each year, the corporation spends hundreds of millions marketing to
kids not just in the absent hope that this will lead kids to crave its
food, but because it is profoundly effective.
The proof is not only in the sales, but in the disease rates. One
in three children born today will become diabetic during their lifetime
as a result of a McDonald’s-style diet. And even for those who don’t
need to guard their children against today’s toxic advertising
landscape, there is a $147 billion annual health care tab to pick-up
for treating conditions related to diet.
Still McDonald’s continues to substitute public relations for real
marketing reform – reform that could vastly improve the health of our
For instance, since the launch of Corporate Accountability
International’s Value [the] Meal campaign, McDonald’s has reduced the
amount it spends on advertising during children’s programs. What has
not been reported is how many of those dollars have shifted from
television advertisements to social media, in an effort to reach
children in environments that are more difficult for parents to
constantly monitor and control.
McDonald’s has also responded to a public climate that favors
retiring children’s junk food marketing icons, and prominent
initiatives like Retire Ronald, by scaling back Ronald’s appearances in
mass media. In McDonald’s-speak however, this means the corporation
will instead be using the hamburger-happy clown “in a more targeted
fashion toward children,” such as, again, placing Ronald McDonald in
environments that are harder for parents to control like schools,
libraries, and, ironically, pediatric clinics.
And McDonald’s Orwellian manipulations don’t stop there. In
response to parental concerns around the use of Happy Meals to attract
children to foods high in fat, salt, sugar, and calories, McDonald’s
pledged to only advertise Happy Meals that met its own nutrition
But again, patrons have to read between the lines. Not only are
nutrition standards devised by the world’s leading burger salesman
questionable at best, the alternatives being offered are really no
alternative at all (apple dippers with a sugary caramel dipping sauce,
for example). What’s worse, the Center for Science in the Public
Interest (CSPI) has found it exceedingly rare for clerks to even offer
such “alternatives” at the register.
In all, McDonald’s pledge was some small concession when the real
vehicle for Happy Meal promotions is not actually the food in the box,
but the seemingly ubiquitous toy promotions for everything from Shrek
characters to Barbie dolls. After all, McDonald’s is the standard
bearer for what the American Psychological Association calls “the most
common persuasive strategy employed in advertising…to associate the
product with fun and happiness, rather than to provide any factual
For this reason, we commend CSPI’s action and encourage McDonald’s
to do the right thing and drop its use of toys before the suit goes to
trial. This is an opportunity for McDonald’s to stop parading its
public relations around as corporate responsibility and to start
responding directly to the very real concerns of parents, health
professionals, and educators across the country.
As the most profitable fast food corporation, McDonald’s can set
an example to countless emulators and competitors. And that example
needn’t be yet another half-measure. It should be the retirement of all
predatory marketing to children from toy promotions to the use of