A study in the United States reported on, with the tag-line ‘some fries with your toys?’ has shown that top fast food brands like McDonald’s and Burger King are downplaying food in favour of promoting their toy giveaways in their advertising. Where adult ads have the food as the core of the ad, in kids ads the emphasis is on everything but food. Images of food packaging were shown in 88% of kids’ ads versus 23 percent of adult ads. Toy premiums were promoted in 69 percent of kids ads versus 1 percent of adult ads and movie tie-ins were used in 55% of kids ads, compared to 14% of adult ads.

The survey, which brought in researchers such as Dr James Sargent, a professor of paediatrics in Dartmouth College’s Geisel School of Medicine, examined a year’s worth of fast food ads on US national TV, examining the ads frame by frame. Not only were 99% of the food ads targeting kids from the biggest brands in the business, namely McDonald’s (70%) or Burger King (29%) but the majority of the ads (79%) aired on very targeted kids networks such as Cartoon Network, Disney XD, Nicktoons and Nickelodeon.

What concerns the researchers is the fact that while the companies subscribe to their nutrition pledge as participants in the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising initiative to advertise only healthy food like apple slices and milk, the healthier foods are not the heroes of the ads but are being hidden behind the hype of the toys and giveaways. The guidelines of the Children’s Advertising Review Unit clearly state: “Since children have difficulty distinguishing product from premium, advertising that contains a premium message should focus the child’s attention primarily on the product and make the premium message clearly secondary.”

Critics have questioned the study’s methodology and its three-year-old data and since the study both McDonald’s and Burger King have made changes to their kid’s meals and advertising, limiting their child-directed advertising to meals meeting meaningful nutrition criteria.

Reference: The Franchise Association of South Africa –

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