posted by Rob, Griffin York & Krause Interactive
Lately, my six-year-old daughter has been all over me about how awesome the Burger King Kid’s Meal is. I asked her why and she said all of her friends at school “just love it”. Of course, we went to find out ourselves. I was surprised to see that not only can you choose the typical tiny burgers or chicken nuggets, but menu options now include things like Kraft macaroni & cheese and apple fries (fresh apple slices cut to look like french fries, but aren’t fried). It is no shocker that fast-food is trying to get healthier, doing things like converting to trans-fat free cooking oil and providing more transparency about the nutritional value of their food items online.
This got me to thinking about the power of branding and advertising related to fast food and children. In a study published last year, the “Effects of Fast Food Branding On Young Children’s Taste Preferences” Archives of Pediatrics (vol 161, p792-797), 63 three-to-five year olds sampled two meals, both from McDonalds. One of the meals was wrapped in plain packaging, while the other was wrapped in McDonald’s branded packaging. The majority of the children in the study thought the meals in the McDonald’s branded packaging actually tasted better than those in the plain packaging, despite being the exact same food items.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that food and beverage companies spent $1.6 billion in 2006 on advertising aimed at children. That’s a huge number spent on such an impressionable audience – is it any wonder that childhood obesity is a growing problem? An obvious question in my mind, also raised by the study, is can all of this fast-food branding power still be used to promote consumption of more healthy foods and healthy choices by children in general? For example, one of the foods tested in the study was plain baby carrots, which were are not even offered by McDonald’s. As you might expect, the children responded more positively to eating baby carrots in McDonald’s packaging than in plain packaging.
As a parent, will I turn to Ronald McDonald or the Burger King to help get my daughter to eat her veggies? Maybe not, but I might think twice about it if they start pushing real veggies like broccoli, cucumbers and brussel sprouts in Kid’s Meals. My daughter, for one, will opt for the Apple Fries, her way.