McDonald’s unsuccessful in appeal against ad ban

McDonald’s call for an independent review of an Ad Standards ruling against one of its advertisements has been unsuccessful.

The initial ruling came in response to a complaint from the Obesity Policy Coalition. The OPC argued that the ad, which showed a girl repairing her bad behaviour to earn a family trip to McDonald’s, targeted children.

Ad Standards’ decision hung on the ad running during an episode of American Ninja Warrior, which exposed it to a large audience of children. The broadcaster Nine did not anticipate the demographic skew, but the panel deemed it was “not unlikely or unpredictable”.

Quick Service Restaurant Initiative for Responsible Advertising and Marketing to Children (QSRI) states that ads for fast food outlets must be placed during programs that receive an audience of less than 35% of children under 14.

The panel decided the appearance of the ad during Ninja Warrior was enough to qualify it as ‘appealing to children’. In addition, as the mother’s meal of burger, fries and soft drink did not comply with the code’s nutritional requirement, the complaint against the ad was upheld.

In its appeal to the independent reviewer, McDonald’s claimed there was a substantial flaw in the Community Panel’s determination and provided further documentation about the slots the ad appeared in.

It claimed the spot checking conducted by an external agency which found the audience of American Ninja Warrior to be over 35% children “was too small to be reliable”, and data that was supplied using a rolling average method found no breaches. McDonald’s argued exceeding the audience requirements 0.47% of the times the ad appeared on air was insufficient to be deemed a violation of the QSRI.

The reviewer determined that rolling average data offered by McDonald’s was not satisfactory to change the ruling against the ad, as it “was only adopted after the adverse decision by the panel, is not clearly explained, and has been adopted to the advantage of the advertiser”.

The reviewer said that a ruling of this nature was not about McDonald’s instructions to the media agency to only buy programs with the correct audience of children, or its surprise that an episode could attract more children than anticipated, rather “it is whether in fact, there were potentially a significant number of children watching the program”.

The reviewer said: “Given the time slots of 6:00pm to 6:30pm for some of the programs where the number was exceeded, the reviewer is not surprised that the percentage audience of children exceeded 35%.”

When ruling in favour of the community panel’s decision, the independent reviewer recommended that the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) and Ad Standards agree on the definition of children, taking into account the age criteria used by commercial sampling agencies.

Currently the food and beverages advertising code is up for review, with submission open to members of the community for potential changes to the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI) and Quick Service Restaurants Initiative (QSRI). From July 1 responsibility for the codes will be transferred from the AFGC to the Australian Association of National Advertisers.


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