Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Kiddie Advertising

In today's Ottawa Citizen:

Canada's big-name food and drink companies are meeting their commitments to advertise less to children and to promote more nutritious products and an active lifestyle when they do target youth, according to a compliance report from Advertising Standards Canada.

The article references the Canadian Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, which companies such as McDonald's, Kellogg and Kraft voluntarily sign on to.

It states:

In advertising directed to children, it is appropriate to favour foods that contribute important nutrients that may otherwise be at insufficient levels in children’s diets; moderate the consumption of fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sugars, and sodium, which are generally over-consumed in the typical Canadian diet; or, of particular importance, moderate total calories in their diets.

Sounds great, eh? But this little gem was buried in the Citizen article:

The nutrition criteria also varies by company. The guidelines that McDonald's uses meant the only brand it advertised directly to children last year was its Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal with milk and apple slices. McDonald's has also changed the way it uses its famous Ronald McDonald mascot in advertising and the red-headed clown character now promotes an active lifestyle, not hamburgers and fries.

Okay, so McDonalds complies with this by putting Ronald in yoga pants and telling them to eat their McNuggets with milk and apples dipped in sugary sludge? Seriously?

Suspiciously, McDonald's nutrition calculator doesn't even seem to have options for kids meals. But I'll propose that deep fried chicken and caramel are not exactly "healthy" meal choices. Fun, sure. Even tasty. But it's not something I'd let my son eat regularly. It's treat food — not sustenance.

And there's the problem. McDonalds is still advertising to children. (As are others, but McDonald's is the leader.) It's still targetting kids so they'll associate McDonald's engineered flavours with comfort foods early on, and will drag their parents to the golden arches at every opportunity.

This is progress in responsible advertising? I must be missing something.

Or maybe I'm just mad because my son recently told me that my gourmet, hand-made, organic beef burgers grilled with hickory smoke and served on a whole wheat bun don't taste as good as McDonalds. That's right — they got him too.

(Image taken from here)

UPDATE: Validation from Quebec...

In light of the report released on the Canadian Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, the Quebec Coalition on Weight-Related Problems (Weight Coalition) is encouraging Canada to develop legislation that is similar to Quebec's, to govern this type of advertising. According to the Coaliton, Canadian companies do not deserve the congratulations they are nevertheless receiving from Advertising Standards Canada (ASC), following the self-regulation measures that were implemented in 2007 and are being evaluated today.


  1. Ever see Eddie Murphy's stand up routine in the movie Raw? He has a GREAT sketch on McDonald's burgers and kids that echoes what you've just said about your gourmet burgers. :-D

    (Y'see, if you stuck enough MSG and sugar into your burgers and your buns, they'll taste like McD's burgers!)

  2. Next time, I'll just wrap my burgers in old McD's paper.

  3. I find that poster disturbing.