I remember the days when I’d ask my parents to take me to McDonald’s. I would beg, plead and make promises that I would do an extra chore (like washing the dishes). “I promise I’ll sweep the house TWO times a day for a week!” Was I willing to do all this for a tiny burger slapped between buns and fries? Absolutely not. It was about the toy. The anticipation of opening up the colorful Happy Meal box to see what fantastic “present” McDonald’s had in store for me was worth all the promises of eating all my food and extra house duties. When the company decided to invest in the overnight sensation that was “Beanie Babies”, I increased my chores to THREE times a day. Needless to say, the kitchen floor was spotless. I wanted to believe that it would be a good investment one day when Beanie Babies made a comeback. I definitely had a hard week’s work to earn my pellet-filled toy. To this day, my collection of Teenie Beanie Babies still sits in their plastic bags in a closet.
It’s no secret that McDonald’s campaigns are aimed towards children. In 2006, the corporation spent over $520 million on advertising and toys to market children’s meals. CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) stated, “Toy premiums made up almost three-quarters of those expenses, totaling over $350 million.” Remember, that was almost 5 years ago.
Today, McDonald’s is facing a lawsuit filed by the CSPI on behalf of a California mother. She argues “that the fast-food chain is ‘circumventing parental control’ by luring children into desiring the company’s toy-packing Happy Meals”, reports the L.A. Times.
Earlier this year, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors tried to ban the Happy Meal toys, but was vetoed by Mayor Gavin Newsom. Newsom argued that is starts with parental control. “Parents, not politicians, should decide what their children eat, especially when it comes to spending their own money,” Newsom said after issuing his veto. “Despite its good intentions, I cannot support this unwise and unprecedented governmental intrusion into parental responsibilities and private choices.” Days later, however, the Board of Supervisors overrode Newsom’s veto, forcing McDonald’s to either drop the toys from Happy Meals or make the food in Happy Meals healthier.
So, I beg the question, “Is McDonald’s genius marketing too powerful even for parents?”