Sometimes I’ll read a news story and just shake my head. Here’s a recent example. As reported in the ASI (Advertising Specialty Institute) CounselorGram newsletter (June 23, 2011), hamburger chain Jack in the Box announced they will no longer include promotional toys in their kids’ meals. Instead, they will offer a healthy upgrade on their kids’ menu which should sit well with both parents and health advocates.
Jack in the Box said that their decision was not in response to pressure from children’s health advocacy groups who claim that the inclusion of promotional toys in kids’ meals encourages eating unhealthy fast food and contributes to the childhood obesity epidemic. They also based their decision on that it was a small portion of their total revenues, as opposed to Happy Meals which were reported in the article at 10% of McDonald’s 2010 revenue.
That’s where I start shaking my head.
Kids’ coloring books that focus on positive messages, such as this “Eat Right, Eat Healthy” book, encourage good habits. See more titles from USA and Union Made Promo Shop.com.
First of all, let me clarify that I am all for healthier (and greener) menus for children. Where I have the problem is the part where the toys encourage them to eat unhealthy food. Yes, I understand that as distributor of promotional goods, I have a bias. But let’s look at this logically. I understand that kids can whine and exert a great deal of emotional pressure on parents. But the fact remains that parents are doing the spending. So in my estimation, the fast food joints are doing an awesome job appealing to parents with the promotional toys, not the kids as the health advocates claim. Being the contrarian that I am, let me ask if a promotional item encouraged kids and parents to buy or consume “healthier” fast food meals, would it still be a problem?
This issue just opens a Pandora’s box of related health and marketing topics including societal trends related to fast food dining, alcohol commercials, and pharmaceutical promotions. You do not want me to get started on any of those soapboxes. Just trust me on that. We’d be here all day.
And let’s not forget the “forgotten kids,” the collectors of promotional toys. I have observed multiple instances where adults will go through a drive-thru to get the kids’ meal and eat it as a snack (or throw it out) just so they can get the prize. Some of them are positively obsessed with this endeavor. So you have to wonder how much of McD’s Happy Meal sales are really to these collectors.
One thing that does come through all of this is that when selling to parents, it is often helpful to pay attention to the kids. For example, sit-down restaurants, car dealers and service shops, banks, salons or doctors might want to provide items to entertain children while the family waits. It becomes part of the customer service experience. Promotional coloring books they can take home, especially those with positive messages, are a good choice for this purpose.
I’m just wondering when Cracker Jack will start feeling the heat.
Got a solution for this issue? Share with us in comments.
UPDATE: On December 8, 2011, Advertising Specialty Institute (ASI) reported that McDonald’s had been fined $1.8 million in Brazil because a Brazilian nonprofit claimed that a promotional toy in Happy Meals “distorts values” and encourages “unhealthy eating habits.” Fined? Really? Again, let’s say that McDonald’s only served organic, cruelty-free or vegetarian selections. Would there be the outcry against promotional items in these meals? I doubt it. And then there is the question of who is to decide what is “healthy? Maybe putting promo toys only in meals that are “healthy” is the ticket to encouraging consumption.
There’s a big missing piece in this story. Where is that $1.8 million fine going? To healthy eating education efforts? I’d be really curious about that.
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