Ad Board Recommends McDonald’s Focus On Actual Meal, Not Just The Cool Toy

Screen Shot 2015-05-15 at 9.57.24 AMBy now we all know that McDonald’s is trying to appeal to a younger audience, but a commercial the company aired last fall geared toward its youngest customers apparently didn’t sit well with an ad review board. And now that group is warning the fast food giant to stick to its food and not to use toys to appeal to youngsters.

The Children’s Advertising Review Unit (CARU) recommended yesterday that McDonald’s ensure all future advertising directed at children focus on food products and not on included toys after reviewing a 30-second commercial for Happy Meals that ran last year.

CARU – which is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s self-regulatory system and is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus – opened its investigation into McDonald’s commercial featuring “Teenie Beanie Baby Boo” toys after routine monitoring of ads directed to children.

Self-regulatory guidelines dictate that advertisers should not stimulate children’s unreasonable expectations about product quality or performance; something the CARU questioned about the McDonald’s ad.

As with the National Advertising Division (NAD), recommendations from CARU aren’t legally binding, but most companies generally follow them.

According to CARU, the McDonald’s commercial generally glosses over the meal portion of the Happy Meal and instead focuses on the “premium” – their word for toy.

The ad spot opens with two animated characters shaped like Happy Meal boxes playfully engaging with a tube of yogurt. The scene then cuts to a child walking toward a Happy Meal box, exclaiming “I am so excited to find out what’s in here.”

Instead of featuring a box full of actual food, the commercial showed a second child pulling a toy from the box; the tube of yogurt, chicken nuggets and French fries that presumably came in the box were already situated on the table and generally skipped over.

Another scene in the commercial cuts to two other children beside a Happy Meal box. While one child held a tube of yogurt, the rest of the food – juice boxes and French fries – were on the table. The camera then moved in for a close-up of the toy, as one of the children pulled her toy from the box and then focused on the toy.

The final two scenes include the entire lineup of Teenie Beanie Boo toys, the animated Happy Meal boxes, and a wide shot of a Happy Meal including chicken McNuggets, a large container of French fries, a juice box and a tube of yogurt.

According to CARU, McDonald’s argued that the commercial more prominently features edible contents of the Happy Meal rather than the toy, because the primary focus and most engaging aspect of the ad was an animated box interacting in a fun way with yogurt.

The company maintained that the food was prominently displayed throughout the commercial and was displayed on-screen almost twice as long as the toy.

Still, CARU’s final determination was that the commercial’s primary focus was on the premium and that children would have difficulty distinguishing between the product and the toy.

In a statement to CARU, McDonald’s continues to believe the commercial was appropriate for children.

“The ad at issue is no longer running,” the company said. “Although we believe that the ad primarily focuses the child’s attention on the product, McDonald’s respects the self-regulatory process and will take CARU’s comments into consideration when producing future ads.”

CARU Recommends McDonald’s Modify Adverting to Focus on Product, Not Premium [Children’s Advertising Review Unit]