“We are not predatory,” responded the CEO of the world’s most powerful restaurant chain to Kentucky mother Casey Hinds at the recent McDonald’s shareholder meeting. Hinds and other concerned moms were asking tough questions, challenging the fast food giant to stop marketing to children. CEO Don Thompson seemed downright charming when he responded, “We do have values at McDonald’s.”
— Flour Sack Mama (@FlourSackMama) May 22, 2014
Throughout the annual meeting, Thompson gave examples that humanized himself and the McDonald’s corporate family. He told of his own kids growing up on McDonald’s food yet turning out just fine. He related another time to a shareholder question asking for biscuits and gravy at all franchise locations and how they’re an American breakfast favorite. The gathering even included a reminder that the restaurant leader has promised to phase out ham and bacon from gestation crated pork production some years down the road, a nod to animal rights groups.
When it comes to kids, McDonald’s is the most prominent name in the industry that spends some four and a half billion dollars each year marketing what the Yale Rudd Center says is mostly unhealthy food — often marketing targeted directly at children. Healthy lifestyle blogger and mother Leah Segedie asked the McDonald’s board, “When are you guys gonna shut down HappyMeal dot com? Despite calls from America’s pediatricians to stop marketing fast food to kids and despite the Federal Trade Commission’s asking restaurants to market healthier food choices, this child-centered marketing is prolific in society today. Websites like McDonald’s target children with games, e-books and chances to win prizes, all while strengthening kids’ impression of “fun” connected with fast food. Thompson emphasized that his restaurant is finding ways to encourage “more fruits & vegetables”, backing up the visual of the new Happy Meal box mascot with a pineapple on its head.
— Corp Accountability (@StopCorpAbuse) May 22, 2014
Mothers in the #MomsNotLovinIt” effort of Corporate Accountability International aren’t buying the argument that fast food has gone healthy — not when burgers, fries and sugary drinks are still the industry’s cash cows. “You are marketing to my children without my consent,” accused Segedie, “with websites, with Lego characters, and even with my school report cards.” Good performance in school is often rewarded with coupons for fast food, teachers ask pupils to attend McTeacher nights, and Ronald McDonald teaches reading in library programs. Segedie, who eventually lost 100 pounds as an adult, related how Happy Meals were a central part of her childhood that she related to happiness even while struggling with obesity.
Segedie later blogged about her perception that the McDonald’s CEO hadn’t taken her seriously. Sure, there’s a free market argument that restaurants can sell what they want and you don’t have to buy it. Blogger Lindsay Dahl explains the nuances of the real issue in the #MomsNotLovinIt campaign. This is about targeting the children at a vulnerable time when parents are already trying to teach them to make healthy food choices. It’s about nutrition when the United States has a childhood obesity epidemic.
This concern about predatory marketing to kids has been the topic of several blogs, as well as major traditional media coverage. There’s an interesting behind-the-scenes aspect of the bravery of a few women to dare even speak up to the McDonald’s leadership. What do you think? You can explore the issue further by searching the #MomsNotLovinIt hashtag across all social media and even add your voice to the conversation.