McDonald’s Launches New Happy Meal Nutritional Advertising

McDonalds New Happy Meal McDonald’s has launched a new campaign targeting kids to introduce the NEW Happy Meal. The Happy Meal has been a staple on the McDonald’s menu since 1979 when it was first introduced to compete with Burger Chef (now Hardees). The inaugural Happy Meals were a hamburger or a cheeseburger, french fries, cookies, soft drink and a toy! Brilliant, as kids would now associate going out for burgers with going and getting a toy and that makes them happy and also entertained. The nutritional aspects of the food was not as scrutinized as it is today as it was fast food and fast food is greasy, messy and all around bad for you but it tastes so damn good. Over the years with obesity rates and other health issues skyrocketing, nutritional values of all foods has been given a closer look.

Is the Happy Meal Healthy?

Well, no one has died from eating one that I am aware of so I guess it is cannot be all that bad. Right? If we look solely and exclusively at the caloric intake from a Happy Meal of a hamburger, fries and soft drink, we round out at about 630 calories. GASP! That is a lot of calories for a kids meal. There are other values to consider when evaluating if something is nutritious such as the carbs, fat, saturated fat and of course the sodium. A review of the nutritional values  indicates that this meal has roughly 630 mg of sodium (more than  1/2 of the daily recommended intake for a child between the ages of 4-8). The new Happy Meal with the apple slices, 1.1 oz fries and milk does bring down the calorie count to around 485 but the sodium increases to over 700mg as there is more sodium in the milk than the kids soda.

So, is the new Happy Meal that much healthier where a new campaign would be warranted to “educate” children about nutritious meals? They could have been doing this all along and not have a new offering (or semi-new offering) tied to it. As marketers, we can see why they would tie the campaign to their new offering as the best way to educate kids about better nutrition is through characters and examples of food. Let’s face it, kids have learned for years about the different food groups and what healthy eating is from Sesame Street so if it has worked so well for them, it will for McDonald’s! Ultimately McDonald’s wants to increase sales and focusing on the healthier NEW Happy Meal just may do just that. The kids will be engaged due to the characters and remember that getting a Happy Meal makes you happy because there is a toy and at the same time, it is healthy and eating healthy makes your mom and dad happy so eat a Happy Meal today! Oh boy!

Does the Nutritional Value Matter?

In the advertising itself, no not at all. McDonald’s spends roughly 13% of its overall ad budget or $115 million dollars in 2010 on advertising the Happy Meal. If the nutritional value mattered, they would not have advertised prior to this week as it was unhealthy last week compared to this week, right? So, we can see where the nutritional value does not matter. What does matter? The message. The message here is to kids. How much of the ad are they understanding? How much are they really paying attention to after they hear Happy Meal and immediately associated it with the toy? Let’s face it, kids rely upon their parents to make the right meal choices for them. The name itself Happy Meal tells us what we are to associate the kids meal with. Happy. Eat a Happy Meal and be happy. Eat a nutritious meal and you are happy; yeah, it just does not flow as well coming from McDonald’s.

If the Nutritional Value Does Not Matter, Then Why All the Hoopla?

Because the nutritional value matters to the parents which are the unintended audience (well the perceived unintended audience). McDonald’s knows that kids watch TV and that the parents are present and while many times slightly paying attention they hear the spot and pay attention to see what the NEW Happy Meal is all about and how are they talking to my kid. McDonald’s has now the attention and focus of the kids and also the parents. Not too shabby. Parents do care what they are feeding their kids. We as parents know that fast food is no where near the nutritional value of a home cooked meal. Knowing this why do we buy it? Convenience. Convenience trumps nutritional value every single time. If we were told that fast food chicken products caused cancer in children, no-one would buy them. The scared straight factor is simple. We do not want our kids eating something that could give them cancer. We do not look at the other diseases such as foods high in sodium which leads to high blood pressure, is a precursor for kidney problems and cardiovascular disease as being a deterrent. Why? These diseases happen over time and the “little bit” that we feed our kids fast food will not lead to that.

Fast Food Advertising to Children

Much has been said about fast food advertising and children. A  BBB 2010 study of 38 hours of children’s programming (note: it does not indicate whether this was network only, cable only or a combination of both, nor does it indicate the sample size demographics; (ie age, gender, etc. as well as the time of day that the 38 hours was studied) found that 1/4 of the ads were for the food itself as it was for sedentary entertainment. With this, there was a 9% increase in the overall advertising from 2009. So, in other words, kids are being exposed to the fast food brands, just in a different way; through enticing to visit their website for a contest, game, to view all of the characters offered in the Happy Meals each week (always a favorite of mine as “see kids the one you have is ok but you need ALL of them/or this particular one”).

While there is only 1/4 of advertisers actually advertising their food to children we would be quite naive to think that kids do not know what food McDonald’s has (unless kids have never eaten fast food, driven in a metropolitan city, never watched tv or gone to school). Kids, like adults who have a favorite fast food restaurant or even a causal or fine dining restaurant associate the food offered there with pleasure. All restaurant owners know (or should know this) and while McDonald’s is promoting the new Happy Meal as nutritious (or more nutritious then the previous one from last week) they know that the nutrition part is not why people come to McDonald’s.  Does it help to change some minds that fast food is not all bad? Of course it does but whose minds are you changing? If people are fast food buyers, they would have bought regardless if the fries were decreased from 2.5 oz to 1.1 oz and a bag of apple slices were added to each Happy Meal. Oh, and by the way, you can opt to get 2 bags of apple slices instead of the fries. Maybe if they were really wanting this to be nutritious, they would replaced the fries with apple slices and you have to ask for the fries (even I chuckled when I wrote this). This will not happen as then kids will associate McDonald’s with the fruit and not the fries and really let’s face it, who would rather have fries vs apple slices?

If we all wanted apple slices, the fast food places would be empty as we all would be at the grocery store during lunch to get our fresh apple. We are willing to leave work to get some fast food but not so much on heading to the grocery store to get some fruit. Shows that we do not associate the apple with the pleasure that we do with fries. Fast food chains know this and exploit it. Grocery stores do not even bother advertising a quick visit of grabbing an apple or even the assorted fruits packages that are so nicely cut up as they know it is a waste of money. We would see that as a hassle and inconvenient where the fast food chain (even if a further drive) is viewed as convenient. This has been engrained in our brains and we do not really think about it until someone points it out. Actually for the grocery store, sales very possibly would increase as we know that every time we “run” in to grab a few things we end up spending more.

Kids LiveWell Initiative

The National Restaurant Association has made great strides in the advertising of kids meals. Most recently they received a commitment of their 68th restaurant brand to provide parents with healthy menu choices. These healthy choices are a good alternative for parents to research however it does not cut down on the advertising of meals that are not considered very healthy. Notice a very large brand with happy food is missing from the initiative. Interesting. I guess they are committed to advertising directly to kids that their meals are nutritious but when it comes actively promoting a selection of menu items that meets the qualifying criteria based on leading health organizations’ scientific recommendations they fall short of the commitment? I guess one could argue that they are doing this, their way, in their new Happy Meal advertising however it seems quite contradictory to their position represented in Chicago Tribune, where McDonald’s calls itself a leadership brand … whether it is for children’s advertising or the food they serve in their restaurants.

I am not attacking McDonald’s here nor am I against advertising to kids as um … sometimes Santa needs some help. As a parent I make the decisions regarding dinner. I am not a fan of fast food so in our house it is a super treat out of pure desperation to pull up to McDonald’s. Chinese food and Italian food/NJ pizza takeout – well … that is a different story! We all have our weaknesses.

Responsible Advertising

I support responsible advertising in all mediums across all targets as does probably everyone reading this and the brands that we see advertising (there are a few exceptions of course).  Is McDonald’s advertising responsible in their new spots?

A pet goat eating a chair, dad’s hair, a hole in a baseball glove that was the exact size of the baseball, paper, etc is funny and will definitely get a lot of laughs especially the dad’s hair but is a child able to see the spot and see the goat’s bad eating as themselves as eating bad? They do not eat paper, couches, dad’s hair, baseball gloves so while they will get a good giggle, it is not very likely that many will see the spot and think of themselves eating better. Which after viewing the spot, the message becomes clear. Come to McDonald’s for a Happy Meal. It does say that the goat needs to change his diet to include fruit and dairy (I guess the other food groups are not as important??) and it highlights the 2 changes in the Happy Meal of milk and the apple slices with fruit to eat but product placment of the french fires is very prominent. So kids, while you are having this treat at McDonald’s (which the ad does mention that they go to McDonald’s for a treat; which could mean the toy as it was not mentioned in the spot), of milk and fruit, which you can have at home, you will still be getting your fries when you come here. The spot is super cute and kids will find great entertainment value but is that enough to really say that they are educating kids on nutrition by mentioning that a goat needs to eat fruits and dairy and after he does he thinks he is as strong as an ox? Keyword that jumped out: THINKS. At least Popeye KNEW.


photo credit: Nation’s Restaurant News

Burger King Kills The King But Still Misses the Mark

Hail to the King … his death that is. Burger King has eased the pain on your eyes in dethroning the creepy, freakish and simply out of date character of the King. To think that King was targeting teenagers makes it all that much creepier and reason to tune them out and drive on by. Fast food targeting teens, when done properly, is very successful. You have to be them and most of all be hip and cool. No-teen would be caught dead at an establishment that was not seen as hip and cool. Uh, duh. The King was not hip, it was so out of date compared to the graphics these kids are exposed to online (I mean even Thomas is animated now talks)  and resembled a cheesy Halloween costume that a bank robber would wear.

Characters In Advertising

Characters in advertising, or as some would say, spokes people, are common. Some makes sense and some do not. A King for Burger King is not too far fetched however, it is a far cry from hold the pickle, hold the lettuce, special orders to not upset us … That was talking to the customer while at the same time smearing the golden arches of one size fits all. They were differentiating. The King was this character that was more geared towards the program that the spot would be aired on than the customers. They differentiated as the King did it all while other characters/spokes people set out to do one thing and do it well (not everyone is successful in this). Characters are supposed to represent a positive image of the brand (whether that be in humor or of a more serious tone) one that people can connect with and feel proud to patronize. Would the target market for a fast food chain rather wear a t-shirt of I’m Lovin’ It or of some creepy character in leggings?

Targeting In Advertising

Targeting is very important. We know this. Not everyone in your target is going to listen to you, remember you, buy from you, love your advertising, etc. But, they do know you are there. How many brands can say that? In fast food, we know all the chains. We know which ones we prefer, we know which ones are closer to us, we know which ones we regret eating the next day or the ones that are greasy enough to make us not regret what we did the night before. We as consumers know this so why on earth do they not? If we are their target, then how come they do not know us as much as they want us to know them? Puzzling I suppose, but, at the same time, we have to look at how broad advertising can be. It is multi-network/market/state and for products that are geared towards kids/teens, multi-generational. Targeting is not just pointing to a certain group based upon demographics and saying I want them. It has to dig deeper and really talk to them insomuch as understanding what is the trigger for them. Teens, cool; younger – it is fast food, it totally rocks. Parents – it is convenient and I can suffer through.

Life After the King

Life after the King might be as shakey as it was with the King. Burger King, as we know has a new CEO and also a new agency. We knew there would be an entirely new campaign as new agency has a fresh, new set of eyes and creative mind. They are targeting moms which strategically is probably a very smart move as the decision to purchase fast food for dinner is many times made by the mom. Valid however what about what happens after the decision to purchase fast food? Who decides WHERE to go? The kids and/or convenience.

Convenience. Convenience. Convenience.

Fast food is convenient. It is that moment where you are thinking about what to make for dinner and comparing that to the schedule of the day. School is starting, the kids will have practices, extra curricular activity meetings, homework, etc. The parent taxi is in full swing and the convenience of picking up fast food so that everyone gets fed quickly and before 9pm. We want to eat healthy but we know that fast food is not very healthy. The ingredients being fresh is not something we think about as if we did then we would want to know who their food supplier is, whose theirs is and where did the tomatoes originate from. How were they treated, how were they transported, how many days were they in a warehouse/factory, how many days were they on the truck and where are they stored once they are delivered. If we think about that, then we would never purchase fast food or would we never purchase many things from the grocery store. Touting fresh vegetables is not going to really change the image that Burger King has in the minds of consumers. The restaurants are out dated and many times not very clean. The visions of the fresh vegetables actually goes against this and makes consumers think of the restaurant cleanliness more.

Missing the Mark

We can sit here all day and talk about how Burger King missed the mark after watching this spot.

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Some may disagree while others will point out many other reasons they missed the mark. The good news for BK would be that we were talking about them, however, the bad news is that our discussion would bring us more reasons to go elsewhere. Maybe I am wrong but if you are targeting moms, convenience should be number 1. Is it assumed that with fast food it is convenient and brands to not need to advertise that? Possibly or can we have a situation here where we assume that everyone knows that it is convenient so we jump over that and create something that is supposed to tie into that?

Maybe too much of my own opinion/experience is coming into this here as fast food is not only competing with other fast food establishments, they are competing with so many other brands. It is faster to go home and make a tv dinner than it is to sit at the drive through at Burger King. It is not as convenient. With fast food, the food is already cooked when you get in the door whereas with the tv dinner,while it may be healthier, you have to put down all that is in your hands, go to the freezer, pull them out, open them up, put into the microwave, set the timer and wait for the beep while the kids are jumping off the walls waiting to eat. With Burger King, you seat them nicely at the table and throw their burger at them. I see no thoughts of freshness, healthiness or anything of the like coming to mind. I see convenience. Be your target and live their life. Freshness seems to be more targeting the those at work, who are trying to decide what is healthy in fast food to have for lunch – but again, this is just my opinion.

Does this new spot change meet the lifestyle of the target of moms? Does this make you want to run out the door right now and get a California Whopper?