Fast Food / Marketing / Uncategorized

What Were They Thinking?

lowtarWhat were they thinking? Mark Bittman asked this question about the Alliance for a Healthier Generation partnering with McDonald’s in his recent column.  After talking with some of the people who work for the Alliance, the common justification is “people are going to eat there no matter what so we should try to make it healthier.”  Adding a side salad option to McDonald’s Value Meals reminds me of when tobacco companies created low-tar cigarettes in order to deflect criticism.

The bottom line is that all cigarettes are harmful to your health, even the lowtar ones.

Imagine if public health advocates had told themselves “people are going to smoke no matter what, so we should try to make it healthier.”  They wouldn’t have taken on the important work of stopping the cigarette marketing to kids and sending Joe Camel into retirement.  When they were finally successful in 1997, President Bill Clinton cheered the demise.

We must put tobacco ads like Joe Camel out of our children’s reach forever.

That makes it all the more disappointing to see McDonald’s marketing to children tacitly endorsed by the Clinton Global Initiative.  The Alliance’s partnership with McDonald’s left out addressing what internationally renowned expert on obesity, Kelly Brownell, describes as the most critical issue.

Most important is for companies to remove children and teens from the list of groups to be recruited as loyal customers. It seems unlikely that industry will do so voluntarily—there is simply too much money at stake. More weak and ineffective promises from industry will hurt more than help. Charlie Brown kept hoping Lucy would hold the football in place…Children’s health is not something to be auctioned off to big food companies.

Just as tobacco companies played up their partnerships with health organizations to deflect criticism, McDonald’s is highlighting its partnership with the Alliance in their “nutrition journey” promotional materials.  They describe how the company will “expand in-restaurant, website, mobile communications & marketing vehicles.”  This equates to more subversive marketing to children.

Here is a preview of what is on the horizon for America’s children.

AdAge reports that, for two weeks starting Nov. 1, McDonald’s will be putting four different books, each detailing all the reasons you should eat anywhere other than McDonald’s but presumably without saying so, inside Happy Meals.

Even though there are already books available on this topic, McDonald’s chose to create its own books to help educate youngsters on the topic of healthy eating. This allows the company to tailor the message so that kids don’t get the wrong idea that maybe fast food isn’t the best thing for them.

Fortunately, health advocates are speaking out against McDonald’s planned approach.

“It’s definitely more of the same,” says Jesse Bragg, spokesman for corporate watchdog group Corporate Accountability. “It’s just a way to get their brand in front of kids in a very subversive way.”

The irony, Bragg says, is that kids who read the books might associate the McDonald’s brand with healthy eating. “But we all know that fast food is a big driver of childhood obesity.”

In a piece titled “McDonald’s’ bogus health initiatives are bad for everyone,” Deena Shanker points out that health advocates and researchers agree that children are especially vulnerable to marketing.

If McDonald’s wants to do its part to reduce childhood obesity, it should follow Taco Bell’s lead and stop marketing to children entirely.

Under its “National Nutrition Commitments” McDonald’s claims it wants to hear from parents.

Embark on a listening tour to hear from parents and nutrition experts about how McDonald’s can play a role in nutrition.

With the #momsnotlovinit campaign, parents sent a loud and clear message to McDonald’s that we want them to stop their predatory marketing to kids. As a parent Ambassador for the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program, let me repeat my message to McDonald’s in hope that this time they will really listen.

Leave our kids alone. Stop sending Ronald McDonald into our schools.  Stop using students’ love of their teachers to increase sales with McTeacher’s Nights.  Shut down HappyMeal.com.  Retire Ronald.  Stop trying to change the conversation by laying the responsibility for protecting children from your marketing all on parents. Get out of the way and let us do our job of raising healthy kids.

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