This Mother’s Day marks the two year anniversary of #MomsNotLovinIt. That’s when I joined with other mothers in campaigning against McDonald’s unethical marketing to children. While many health professionals had already spoken out about McDonald’s predatory marketing to kids, they were ignored by the corporation which continued to target children with fast food ads. That motivated action by parents like me who were fed up with McDonald’s telling kids that fast food is lovin’ and using schools as ads.
Since our first #MomsNotLovinIt action two years ago there has been a sea change in how parents view junk food marketing to kids and McDonald’s role in the epidemic of diet-related disease facing today’s children. During those two years, First Lady Michelle Obama came out against junk food marketing in schools saying:
“Our classrooms should be healthy places where kids are not bombarded with ads for junk food.”
This is the message the other mothers and I brought to McDonald’s shareholders’ meeting last year when we asked for them to stop sending Ronald McDonald into schools. The CEO at the time replied to our concerns by lying and telling us:
“We don’t put Ronald out in schools.”
This triggered a call by advocacy groups demanding that he keep his word and stop sending Ronald McDonald into schools. McDonald’s has doubled down on its efforts to market to kids by updating the clown’s wardrobe and rolling out the #RonaldMcDonald hashtag to sell even more burgers and fries to children under the guise of friendship. By bringing back the Hamburglar, it appears McDonald’s recognizes it has lost the moms and are banking on the dads to teach kids to love burgers and fries. How else do you explain this bizarre PR statement that accompanied his return?
“He’s had some time to grow up a bit and has been busy raising a family in the suburbs and his look has evolved over time.”
#MomsNotLovinIt has used McDonald’s numerous hashtags and blunders to spread the word that Ronald McDonald is the Joe Camel of fast food. McDonald’s sales have continued to slip, but the corporation keeps ignoring the growing backlash to their aggressive marketing to children. Instead it says the franchise owners:
“have got to be in the schools. When you look at the performance relative to peers of the operators [whose] restaurants are part of the community–it’s significant. So we’re celebrating that…this is an essential part of being an McDonald’s owner operator. This is our heritage. And schools are a big piece of it.”
Kids deserve better than McDonald’s using their schools as ads. They deserve better options for career day than their school becoming a McDonald’s drive through. They deserve better than McTeachers giving them a McEducation and Ronald McDonald marketing to them under the guise of teaching. Promoting McDonald’s in schools is counterproductive when studies show fast food is linked to lower test score gains and obese students are far less likely to finish high school. Are students learning critical thinking about fast food when their teachers are wearing t-shirts from McDonald’s? When McDonald’s turnaround plan depends on selling Twix McFlurries, they have no business being in schools.
McDonald’s new CEO claims he wants to transform it into a “modern, progressive burger company” but progressive companies don’t market fast food to children under the pretext of lovin’. McDonald’s targets all kids with marketing, but especially kids of color. As Roberto Ferdman put it, “what’s disturbing is just how far fast food companies will go to target kids from groups already more likely to suffer from obesity – including the poor, rural Americans and black Americans.”
McDonald’s wants to shake its reputation as a bad corporate actor but its aggressive marketing to children has earned it a reputation as the Philip Morris of fast food. The new CEO is desperately trying to turn things around but as Sriram Madhusoodanan noted, his latest plan failed to “address the core issues that have required McDonald’s to announce a turnaround in the first place.”
It took years of advocacy before Joe Camel became too much of a liability to keep using as a way to hook kids on cigarettes. McDonald’s is gambling on the idea that it too will have time to delay the inevitable, but that’s a risky move considering how the internet accelerates to flow of information. I predict the rough ride McDonald’s has faced these past two years is about to get even rougher.