Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Marketing Fast Food to Kiddies: I'm Not Lovin' It


Fellow Ottawa marketing company Fuel Industries is flying high these days - McDonald's Europe has given the company the mandate to revolutionize the Happy Meal. So what's their approach, you ask? The answer is "advergaming" (video games + advertising), featuring an original Fairies and Dragons concept.

While this is great news for our neighbours at Fuel and an exciting and fresh new direction for McDonald's marketing, I can't help but find the idea of marketing fast food to children problematic.

One of my past professors at the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University, Dr. Charlene Elliott (now teaching at the University of Calgary) is currently researching food marketing and its relationship to obesity here in Canada. More specifically, she is focusing her studies on the marketing of "fun foods" to children in supermarkets.

In her article "Assessing 'Fun Foods'", published in the "Obesity Reviews" journal in 2007, Dr. Elliott argues that the 'fun foods' she has identified, which are aimed specifically at children, promote the idea that food should be valued as entertainment rather than for its nutritional value. A clear conclusion from her research is that this trend is dangerous and that manufacturers of such foods such be more responsible and promote healthy nutrition and an active lifestyle to impressionable children.

Coming back to McDonald's, a study stemming from the Stanford University School of Medicine has shown that "most 3- and 5-year-olds who taste-tested a variety of foods said they preferred the ones in the McDonald's wrapper -- even though the foods were exactly the same", proving that the company's advertising techniques do have influential power over cute little kindergarteners like the one pictured above. Unlike grown-up audiences, these children do not have the faculties to view advertisements with a critical eye.

Just some food for thought.