McDonald’s is under attack once again for marketing to kids. This has been a long term debate between the chain and its loyal (unwilling?) customer base. Jim Skinner (CEO) has fended off the attacks (temporarily) with the promise of a pro-activity campaign.
Let’s start with the positive - he’s not backing down. McDonald’s is a company, a business. It’s not a non-profit, an environmental group, the FDA, MADD, DARE or the government. It is not their job to police the food intake of the world’s children. If marketing to children is moving more hamburgers and chicken (corn) nuggets, then that’s exactly who they should be marketing to.
Sure, it’s bad business practice to disregard the well-being of your customers, and people will notice, but at the end of the day, which will bring in more money: selling low-quality beef to minors with cartoon characters (and that scary clown) or teaching them to eat healthier?
But other companies do it! I’ve got news for you. Companies do what’s best for the company. Cigarette companies contribute to quit campaigns because it gets the government off their back (or in some cases, because they have to). Power companies run environmental conservation campaigns because it draws our attention away from the smoke stacks over our heads. That’s business.
The shareholder/stakeholder debate isn’t really about corporate responsibility. It’s about green, and I don’t mean trees.
The second point here is that the campaign will get annoying moms temporarily off their back. A change in action is all they’re looking for. If a group can strong arm a company into doing something different, it’s a win for them. The new campaign will likely have very little effect on the kids. They’re often smarter than we give them credit for. Kids only respond to marketing that’s enticing. No matter how hard you try, you can’t sell soccer to a fat kid that just wants some fries.
The downside is that this whole thing is just a PR maze. I’ve never been one for the sheepish PR tactics of a lot of companies. I understand their purpose, and they often work, but sometimes people are just being stupid, and they need to realize that. An entire nation (heck, half the world) is hooked on McDonald’s food. Do you think ignoring their low rumble (albeit persistent) whining is going to hurt sales? I doubt it.
Parents are pushing more and more for organizations to do their parenting for them. They want McDonald’s to stop appealing to kids. They want cartoons to be educational. They want video games to be less violent. Some even want the government to buy their food (and need the government to regulate what food they can buy).
Here’s my suggestion. McDonald’s (and Rockstar, and the government) should start a new campaign focused on how to properly raise a child. Cover complex subjects such as:
- How to say “no” and stick to it, regardless of how loud your child gets in the grocery store.
- How to properly supervise a child.
- How to punish a misbehaving child.
- Apples are good. French fries and ice cream are not.
- The alphabetical guide to monitoring your child’s video game collection from (L)ook to (L)ook.
That’s the short list, but you get the idea. I’m not making a joke here either. Perhaps the derogatory tone shouldn’t be so prevalent, but the fact remains that bad things will always exist. The proper methodology here is not to remove everything bad (punishing those of us bright enough to enjoy it maturely), but to set boundaries and teach children right from wrong - a responsibility which (unfortunately, in some cases) lies with the parents.
Face it, McDonald’s is always going to sell toys with the happy meal. Popsicles are always going to be rainbow colored. Explosions will always appeal to a child and often appear in R rated movies. Grand Theft Auto is absurdly fun, and kids know it. Learn to start parenting, and stop expecting multi-billion dollar corporations to do it for you. Believe it or not, your child’s safety is not nearly as important to the CEO of company X as the wallets of his or her shareholders.
Capitalism is a selfish system. Start dealing with it.