McDonald’s ad removed following complaints from Obesity Policy Coalition

The Obesity Policy Coalition (OPC) has lodged a complaint against an ad for McDonald’s, for positioning a Happy Meal from the fast food restaurant as a reward for children’s good behaviour.

The OPC argued that the ad breaches the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative for Responsible Advertising and Marketing to Children (QSRI), to which McDonald’s is a signatory, because it is appealing to children under the age of 14 and “the prominent foods advertised do not represent healthier dietary choices”.

The ad subject to the complaints depicts a girl named Lucy righting her wrongs, by removing arrows from photos of her brothers, washing pink dye out of the family dog’s fur, painting over the slogan ‘Brother’s are…’ on the cubby house and retrieving car keys from a fish tank in order to earn a family meal at McDonald’s.

Further complaints made to industry watchdog Ad Standards about the ad labelled it a “very covert pester power tactic”, “seemingly applauding bullying behaviour” and promoting animal cruelty.

Another complaint took issue with the backing track ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’ by Nancy Sinatra, which they said “has the theme of how to dump an adulterous lover” and therefore is inappropriate for children.

Addressing the OPC’s complaint sparked some analysis from the panel.

In its response to the complaint, McDonald’s argued that the ad was not designed to appeal primarily to children based on the colour scheme, lack of animation, and the  message of ‘For family time, we’ll be here’ and the 1960s origins of Nancy Sinatra’s song appealing to older adults.

Ad Standards agreed with these assessments, finding that the theme, visuals and language were equally attractive to adults and children, and the ad was not directed primarily to children under the age of 14.

McDonald’s also supplied a list of 22 instances in which the ad was placed during afternoon and evening programs where the audience was over 35% children aged 0-12, a limit set in the QSRI. However, the company argued these were an anomaly and the average child audience for these programs fell under the 35%.

For most of the programs McDonald’s provided, the panel agreed that the high percentage of children could not have been predicted, except for the placement of the ad during an evening broadcast of American Ninja Warrior.

The panel noted that the average audience of children under 14 for American Ninja Warrior between 3:30pm and 6:30 pm was predicted to be 25.86%, but of the nine times the ad was placed during the program, it exceeded 35%, therefore making it “not unlikely or unpredictable that the show American Ninja Warrior would have a high percentage of children under 14 watching”.

This meant the ad had breached point three of the QSRI, and required the panel to then consider the nutrition of the food and any references to a healthy lifestyle in the ad.

Despite the children eating Happy Meals of grilled chicken bites, small fries, apple slices and water, which is compliant to the code, the inclusion of the mother’s meal of a burger, fries and soft drink did not comply. There was also no messaging encouraging healthy dietary choices nor call to action encouraging physical activity, thus breaching the QSRI initiative.

As the ad breached the QSRI it also breached the Section 4.2 of the AANA Food Code which requires ads to comply with the QSRI.

The ad was removed by McDonalds, which gave the response: “As a founding member of the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative (QSRI) for Responsible Advertising and Marketing to Children we take our responsibility as an advertiser seriously. We are disappointed with the outcome of the complaint, however, we respect the final decision from Ad Standards. It has been removed.”

In making its decision, the Ad Standards Community Panel also ruled that matters of children’s bad behaviour is not an issue that fell within the code of ethics it rules upon, and that the ad did not depict acts of vilification, violence or bullying from the girl towards her brothers, rather acts of “typical sibling rivalry”.

It also dismissed claims of animal abuse, as whilst it may upset some members of the community, the dying of dogs’ fur is a common practice. The complaint against the backing track was also dismissed because “there is nothing explicitly sexual or clearly inappropriate in the lyrics as presented in the advertisement”.

McDonald’s creative agency of record is DDB Sydney.


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