Sunday, February 17, 2013

McDonald's "Deceptive" Marketing to Children (2010)

A boy posing with a happy meal display,
held by Ronald McDonald, McDonald's mascot

McDonald's is one of the largest distributors of toys, which is included in 20% of their sales. The Happy Meal that is targeted towards children began in 1979 and became rapidly popular with the fun box, small portions, and of course, the ever-changing toy included. McDonald's targets children through Ronald McDonald and the kids play areas as well, making it a fun environment. In 2010 McDonald's was sued for unethical marketing practices towards children through the act of providing those toys. Monet Parham came forth to sue McDonald's because her daughters would nag and cry for the Happy Meals constantly even when told no, she claimed that McDonald's had invaded their minds through their deceptive marketing. Complaints that McDonald's influences unhealthy eating habits through their advertisements and exploits young children has risen with the toy claim. A law in two cities of California has passed saying that any establishments that does not meet nutritional value will not be allowed to serve toys with the meals. Today the Happy Meal is still in place and the practices are continuing to attract children to their establishments. 

The following theories: individualism, utilitarian, kantian, and virtue theory examine if the McDonald's Corporation is acting ethically or not and why. For each theory McDonald's has acted ethically, the only theory that breaches ethical decisions is kantian but overall the corporation has acted ethical thus far.

A happy meal with a My Little Kitty Toy

According to Friedmans's theory of individualism the company is acting ethical. The company's main goal is to maximize profit for the owner and stockholders. McDonald's is purposely marketing children because they are able to persuade their parents to purchase their products. Children are unable to drive or buy the food but their parents are. By having children go with a parent or adult, it doubles profit. If one adult goes, that is one burger, but if a child and an adult go, its two. Therefore increasing sales. Children push to get a new toy in a Happy Meal and play on the playground provided at many establishments which drive profits, Friedman would agree with their practices because it has and will continue to create maximum profit. Utilitarian theory states that happiness should be maximized while pain should be minimized. Again, according to the Utilitarian theory McDonald's is acting ethical. All the stakeholders are happy considering the situation, the stakeholders are the customers, which include the parents and children, the employees of McDonald's and the McDonald's corporation. The children are happy with their toys, and playgrounds, and a clown, which is the face of the McDonald's Corporation. Mostly parents are willing to listen to their children's wishes because their children are entertained by the toys and are busy playing, most parents will stop and get the food because its fast and easy and it makes their children happy, hence the name Happy Meal. Not only are the families happy but so it the corporation. With higher profits employees are able to have job security, higher wages and better benefits. If McDonald's continues to grow, which it is, then there are also more job opportunities available around the world. With the children, parents and the corporation happy, maximum happiness is achieved. 

Kantian theory states that one should do things for the right reasons, that people are not just numbers but should be respected and one should aid in rational decisions of the people and the company. Kantian theory is attached to the saying "the end does not justify the means." One part of the theory is to act rationally with consistent actions and not consider ones self as an exemption. McDonald's has been consistent with their marketing techniques since the 1970's and is one of many fast food chains that provide playgrounds, toys, and figures such as Ronald McDonald. Next the company should aid in making rational decisions, McDonald's provides all the nutritional facts for consumers in all their establishments, it is up to the consumer to decide if they want to purchase the products or not. Next is to respect people and their personal needs and differences, McDonald's has done so with gender based products, age focused meals and healthy options. Lastly Kantian theory says the company should be motivated by good will. McDonald's began the marketing techniques to children out of self-interest to maximize profits, but overtime the techniques have become apart of the McDonald's face. Everyone knows what they do and it is our choice to buy or not. McDonald's was not motivated to just provide a toy because it's the right thing to do, but to attract them to come back. In that sense, McDonald's is unethical but over all McDonald's have used their marketing techniques that satisfy most of the Kantian theory.
McDonald's arches with the
McDonald's signature quote, "I'm Lovin' it"

Virtue Theory
Lastly, the virtue theory, which states that one should express good character, which includes courage, honesty, temperance, and justice. McDonald's acted ethically in reference to their marketing techniques and practices. McDonald's have good ideas, good products, and fairness to their consumers. McDonald's is honest with their food nutrition, and variety of products that satisfy different consumers needs. Consumers know that McDonald's provides fast food for cheap prices, they fulfill their function as a food provider. In reference to the lawsuit, Monet Parham did not show temperance when dealing with her children, the consumers always have the control and power to buy or not and Monet Parham had that control. McDonald's acted ethically and should not be sued for something out of their power, yes they provide marketing to children but the parents are the ones who dictate if their children are fully exposed to the products and at what level. The consumer always has a choice.

ReferencesBased on a paper "The McDonalds Corporation: Marketing Towards Children" written by: Victoria 
     Fredrick, Connor Monck, and Morgan Wert in Fall 2010 Booklet
Truth About McDonald's retrieved from on 
     February 8, 2013
Photo retrieved from on 
     February 8, 2013
Toy Photo retrieved from on February 8, 
McDonald's Photo retrieved from on February 10, 2013
Facts about McDonald's retrieved from
     that-will-blow-your-mind-2012-4?op=1 on February 9, 2013
Advertising to Children retrieved from on February 
     8, 2013
McDonald's Lawsuit retrieved from
     lawsuit-20101215 on March 10, 2013

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