Ad Standards reprimands McDonald’s for giving out free Happy Meal vouchers at children’s sport

Ad Standards has upheld another complaint about McDonald’s vouchers being given out to children at sporting events.

In 2018 it reprimanded the fast food giant for giving $5 vouchers to children as a ‘Man of the Match’ soccer award. In the latest case, free Happy Meal vouchers were given as participation awards.

According to the complainant the voucher included and image on what would be considered as the ‘healthier’ Happy Meal option which includes water and apple slices, however there was no fine print defining exactly what form of happy meal was free.

The complainant stated that because of childhood obesity concerns in Australia “we should not be encouraging deep fried food as a reward for doing sport”.

According to the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative for Responsible Advertising and Marketing to Children (QSRI), vouchers are allowed to be distributed to children if they comply with the nutrition criteria. The nutrition criteria requires meals to be less than 2080kJ and include and main item and a beverage.

In their response McDonald’s stated the voucher did not breach the QSRI because it advertises a bottle of water and a meal that contains less than 705kJ.

McDonald’s also stated that the voucher also encouraged a healthy lifestyle, also in accordance with the QSRI.

“The QSRI requires that advertising and marketing communications to children for food must also reference, or be in the context of, a healthy lifestyle, designed to appeal to children through messages that encourages good dietary habits and physical activity. The Voucher complies with this requirement through the images on the Voucher showing a cartoon image of a boy and girl on a sports team supported with the caption, ‘get out and about with your friends today!’,” the response said.

Ad Standards noted in their deliberation the complainants concerns that the voucher did not specify that particular version of the Happy Meal.

As the voucher did not explicitly meet the nutritional information and was given at a sporting event, Ad Standards found that the voucher was in breach of the QSRI.

Ad Standards also acknowledged that it had upheld the previous complaint, in which it ordered McDonald’s to make sure vouchers were not distributed at children’s events. In delivering the decision it “expressed disappointment that the advertisement was upheld for the same reason as the previous case.”

In February Ad Standards also upheld a complaint about McDonald’s Happy Studio gaming app marketing fast food to children.


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