Happy Meal promotion doesn’t encourage pestering, ASB rules

When the latest Happy Meal promotion tied codes obtained from purchasing Happy Meals with books downloadable from an app the children’s health advocacy group, Parents’ Voice, formerly The Parents’ Jury, submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Board (ASB).

They said that their parents were particularly concerned about the digital element of the promotion, centred on an app called Happy Readers. The Happy Readers promotion gives children free books with the purchase of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. There are 10 hard copy books and 16 digital readers to collect in the series. The app is preloaded with 3 free titles, but to access other titles in the series, users had to input a unique code only obtained through purchasing a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Campaigns Manager, Alice Pryor said “This app is clearly designed to appeal to, and be easily operated by, young children. What worries parents is the fact that the in-app bookstore and the Happy Meal box clearly display the titles that the child has yet to collect. To collect all 10 books and 16 digital readers, children would need to consume 23 Happy Meals in an 8 week period. That’s a lot of fast food in just two months and is certainly not recommended for healthy eating! It also concerns us that the in-app bookstore features the Happy Meal box character and although the Happy Meal highlighted in the app is a ‘heathier choice’, unfortunately, when a Happy Meal is purchased in store, the default food option is not usually the ‘healthier choice’.”

Consistent with previous decisions the Board maintained that material included in the Happy Meal box is part of the labelling and packaging of the product and not marketing.

The app itself was considered under the Food Code. The Board ruled that, to be considered encouraging a child to purchase a Happy Meal, the Code requires a specific direction to children to urge them to purchase a particular product and that was not the case here. In their report, the Board stated that “to interpret any marketing which is attractive to children as amounting to pester power, without any direct or obvious appeal to children to ask their parents for the product, would have the effect of banning all advertising to children.”

We think that it is unlikely an ad is going to be that explicit but an ad could still encourage pester power, particularly if children get a bonus with the purchase of the food.

Advertising Standards Board complaint number 0336/15
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