Happy Meals under fire

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 16th December 2010

McDonalds Happy Meal - by Christina KennedyMcDonalds has defended their iconic Happy Meals against a lawsuit alleging that the fast food company’s use of toys is unfair and deceptive marketing, and lures children into unhealthy choices.

America’s Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) announced in June that they would sue McDonalds if McDonalds continued to include toys in the meal, and yesterday announced their support for California mother-of-two Monet Parham in filing her class-action lawsuit against the company.

“I am concerned about the health of my children and feel that McDonald’s should be a very limited part of their diet and their childhood experience,” Parham said. “But as other busy, working moms and dads know, we have to say ‘no’ to our young children so many times, and McDonald’s makes that so much harder to do. I object to the fact that McDonald’s is getting into my kids’ heads without my permission and actually changing what my kids want to eat.”

As part of the lawsuit, the CSPI has collected documents which they say prove the company actively targets children, including an article in QSR magazine where McDonalds advertising chief creative officer Roy Bergold described the company’s strategy as “Go after kids”.

“Ray Kroc said that if you had $1 to spend on marketing, spend it on kids. Why? Because they can’t get to your restaurant by themselves and they eat a lot,” Bergold is quoted.

Bergold also acknowledged in a separate QSR column that “companies have found that kids are a lot more tempted by the toys than the food.”

CSPI also quoted an online presentation by Martin Lindstrom, who advises McDonald’s on branding and ‘neuromarketing’, as saying that McDonalds “gets into the parents’ wallets via the kids’ minds.”

McDonalds announced that they stood by their Happy Meals, which have received a revamp in recent years, allowing soft drink and fries to be swapped out for fruit and juices.

“We are proud of our Happy Meals and intend to vigorously defend our brand, our reputation and our food,” said Bridget Coffing, a McDonalds spokesperson.

“We stand on our 30 year track record of providing a fun experience for kids and families at McDonald’s,” she said.

“We listen to our customers, and parents consistently tell us they approve of our Happy Meals. We are confident that parents understand and appreciate that Happy Meals are a fun treat, with quality, right-sized food choices for their children that can fit into a balanced diet.”

The traditional Happy Meal took a beating earlier this year after New York photographer and artist Sally Davies photographed one daily for six months, with the food showing little or no sign of decay.

Photo: Christina Kennedy