“Don’t take candy from strangers.” Whether you heard that as a child, or you’re a parent who’s warned your kids, we all know the slogan. Now a consumer interest group says fast food giant McDonald’s lures children in through toys and the practice is creepy, predatory and illegal. The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says it will sue McDonald’s if the chain continues to use toys to promote Happy Meals.
CSPI served McDonald’s a notice of its intent to sue on June 22, 2010. The Washington, D.C. based organization says using toys to lure small children into McDonald’s is unfair and deceptive marketing and is illegal under various state consumer protection laws.
“McDonald’s is the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children,” said CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner. “McDonald’s use of toys undercuts parental authority and exploits young children’s developmental immaturity—all this to induce children to prefer foods that may harm their health. It’s a creepy and predatory practice that warrants an injunction.”
McDonald’s is currently offering children toys related to Dreamworks’ latest Shrek movie. In a company press release McDonalds said the promotion focuses on the “great taste and appeal of fruits and vegetables.” CSPI, however, says when children or parents order Happy Meals they are given French fries 93 percent of the time.
CSPI contends that the toys included with all Happy Meals are a “powerful temptation” for kids. "Regardless of the nutritional quality of what’s being sold, the practice of tempting kids with toys is inherently deceptive,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “I’m sure that industry’s defenders will blame parents for not saying ‘no’ to their children. Parents do bear much of the responsibility, but multi-billion-dollar corporations make parents’ job nearly impossible by giving away toys and bombarding kids with slick advertising.”
“It used to be that parents warned kids to run away from strangers offering candy, but companies have made an end run by laundering their perfidy through electronic media,” said Jacobson.