McDonald’s. Just the name will make most of us salivate and chime “bah ta bah bah bah”. For years now there has been some level of debate over the amount of influence that McDonald’s has over the American diet, especially the younger generations that have never lived in a time pre-big mac. In her article, “Marketing to Children: Accepting Responsibility”, Gael O’Brien fiercely defends her stance on why marketing campaigns should not be allowed to target children and uses McDonald’s as a case study.
Their marketing strategy is effective. If it were not, their success would not be as grand. Along with that comes some level of corporate social responsibility. The question now is, are they doing the right thing by advertising to children? The contributors to this article along with the author say no, “there is no ethical, moral, social, or spiritual justification for targeting children in advertising and marketing”. I agree whole-heartedly with that statement.
McDonald’s counters that by saying that it is the responsibility of the parent to choose what their child eats and they have the legal freedom to advertise their products as they see fit. Again, this is also true. Parents have to be aware of what they allow to come into their homes as far as television, radio, and internet are concerned. This cannot be underscored enough, however big corporations should ethically be concerned about its products impact on the consumers, in this case the childhood obesity epidemic. And if they do truly place all of the liability upon the parent for what is purchased and ultimately consumed, why then do they bother advertising to children at all if it is not their responsibility? Why not advertise solely to the parent audience? They see a weakness and are preying on that child’s limited discernment abilities and a parent’s desire to satisfy their child.
Children are just not mentally equipped to make smart decisions about their health and nutrition. These are habits they learn as they develop. The media uses their naivety; as Susan Linn, co-founder of Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, states “they don’t understand persuasive intent until they are eight years old; and the brain’s capacity for judgment isn’t developed until their 20s which makes them very vulnerable as marketing targets”. With that in mind, there is no true justification for targeting campaigns at children – or any limited capacity group for that matter.
O’Brien opens by stating that “for all the significant achievements companies are making as corporate citizens, the issue of their real impact on society … raises the question of whether we are adequately defining what is expected by being socially responsible”. I would like to propose another question, “are we adequately defining what is socially acceptable?”. Some things do not have to be taken lying down.