McDonald's & Burger King Respond to Kids Meal Marketing Accusations

A recent study released by PLOS One, a scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science, accused fast food giants McDonald’s and Burger King of “potentially misleading” when marketing to kids. The study which was the combination of six researchers including Amy Bernhardt of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth studied over 44,000 McDonald’s ads and about 37,200 Burger King ads on national TV channels July of 2009 to June of 2010.
The study noted the following:
“During the study period, over two-thirds of all placements for children’s fast food ads were attributable to McDonald’s. Whereas adult TV ads from these QSR companies emphasized the taste, portion size and price of food products, children’s ads emphasized toy premiums and movie tie-ins, brands and logos.Children’s advertisements also emphasized the street view of the restaurant, which may help children to recognize it as they drive by with their parents.” Based on the finding, the study stated, “Self-regulatory pledges to focus on actual food products instead of toy premiums were not supported by this analysis.”
Both McDonald’s and Burger King quickly responded to the accusations noting that they comply with Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative’s (CFBAI) standards. They also pointed to the period which the study covered claiming that current company advertising strategies have changed in the past three years. McDonald’s stated, “The study in question is based on data that is three years old and does not accurately reflect our current advertising or our commitment to promoting balanced choices, nutrition and active lifestyles in 100% of our marketing communications to children.” It went on to add ““Both CFBAI and CARU have robust monitoring to ensure compliance, and McDonald’s is fully committed to these important programs.”
Referring to the comparison the study drew between adult and kid’s ads, McDonald’s said, “the study compares adult TV ads to children’s TV ads and finds that there is more food focus in adult ads. These two audiences are vastly different and the comparison is not an adequate measure of our compliance with the self-regulatory commitments.”
Interestingly, Elaine Kolish, the vice president and director of CFBAI, also supported the restaurants’ claims by explaining, “Our independent monitoring shows that, as promised, both have limited their child-directed advertising to meals meeting meaningful nutrition criteria. Both have also made improvements in the kids meals they advertise to children compared to 2006.”
While McDonald’s and Burger King who rely on kids meals on about 10 percent of their revenues are busy defending themselves against accusations, Taco Bell decided in June 2013 to exit the children’s meal market.
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