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Happy Meal Suit Not About McDonald's Menu

happy meal, mcdonalds menu

Awww. Go tell your mom to get you one.

A Sacramento mother of two is suing McDonald’s. Why? Because they offer toys in Happy Meals. (Or, as others interpret the situation, a mother is suing the fast-food chain because she can’t say “no” to her kids.)

It’s McDonald’s fault, mom Monet Parham says, that she has to listen to endless requests from her kids to go get Happy Meals, so effective is the hamburger giant’s marketing strategy. So she and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the non-profit watch dog group that put movie theatre popcorn on the defense, are taking McDonald’s to court for false advertising.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the suit alleges the following:

“McDonald’s exploits very young California children and harms their health by advertising unhealthy Happy Meals with toys directly to them” and that “children 8 years old and younger do not have the cognitive skills and the developmental maturity to understand the persuasive intent of marketing and advertising.”

To which I say: Where can I donate to Parham’s legal fund?

I’m a mother who can and does say no to her kids — a lot — including, but not limited to, requests for Happy Meals. I’m also a mother who recognizes that my family’s limited media consumption (we don’t get cable, for example) and high media savvy (been clubbing them over the head with facts about how they’re being manipulated by marketers since they were born) has mitigated some of our vulnerability.

Even so, man, do I need help!

My kids get hit with corporate messages all the time — half even I don’t know about. It’s not for a lack of trying or willpower or personal responsibility that my kids want to, for example, go to McDonald’s (or see Tangled or drink Gatorade). The geniuses behind the scenes hoping to sell that stuff know just how to zap the message to my girls without going through gatekeeper me. Toys in Happy Meals? The most iconic zap of all.

See, this suit isn’t about lunchtime spinelessness. It’s not about hamburgers and whether McDonald’s offers apples instead of fries, salads instead of burgers, yogurt parfaits instead of ice cream or sausage biscuits. It’s about advertising and marketing directed at kids who are not yet ready to understand the future consequences of their very now decisions. The suit isn’t about adults — it says nothing about advertising and marketing directed at adults with kids. Rather, it specifically address marketing strategies directed at kids themselves — you know, like Happy Meal toys.

The thing is, we don’t let kids decide whether to learn to read or whether to play in the street. We have standards and laws to meet those societal expectations. So why don’t we have certain limits on the access to our children’s attention and brain space and eventual consumption habits? Why do we rejoice at do-not-call lists but bristle when we want the equivalent for our children — a do-not-intrude-on-my-child’s-mental-space measure?

McDonald’s isn’t the only corporation to figure out how to get its brand message directly to kids. And fast-food chains aren’t the only industry to employ these strategies. But McDonald’s is attention-grabbing and an icon. And fast-food, like cigarettes before it, isn’t so good for kids. Of course suing McDonald’s is where this should start.

But it’s not where it should end.

A successful outcome of this suit would give some kind of regulation for all types of advertising aimed at kids and formulated to undermine parental input. Like the Los Angeles Unified School District‘s insane, backward-thinking agreement to offer up students to corporate advertisers — that wouldn’t even be a possibility if Parham and the CSPI are successful.

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