Advertising is a paid-for communication designed to persuade and influence the target customers about a product or service. Advertising is a strategic device created to arrest the public attention so that the prospective customers could be convinced about the utility of a certain product and service offering. Victorian era was the period when the form of modern advertising evolved. Thomas J Barratt is regarded as the father of modern advertising. It was he who by using slogans, phrases and images popularized the brand of Pears soap. His use of slogan like "Good Morning, have you used Pears soap?" initiated the custom of using catchy phrases and dialogues in advertisements (Loeb, 2013). In today's world, advertising is ubiquitous with its presence seen in billboards, flyers, posters and magazines, newspapers, shopping carts, sides of buses, advertisements on radio, cinema and television and subway platforms and trains. All these advertisements serve the same purpose of informing people about the existence and utility of a certain service and product. Besides creating general awareness about the services and products available in the market, commercials also act a powerful source of medium to solve social issues and educate people about the danger of certain diseases and use of certain products. For example, the US government in its crusade against the use of marijuana has reportedly spent about $775 million in 1999 on advertising campaigns to promote awareness about the dangers of marijuana usage (Bryn Mawr College). However, advertising not only casts positive impact on the society. Sometimes advertising can lead to negative impact on the society and the targeted viewers. For example, the fast food commercials designed to lure customers, especially children, towards an unhealthy habit of consuming junk foods may trigger obesity epidemic among children in USA. This paper would focus on how the advertisements of McDonald’s entice children towards junk foods adding to the epidemic obesity engulfing USA at the moment. Though I agree fully with the role advertisements of McDonald’s play in contributing to the obesity epidemic, it cannot be denied, however, that the lack of activity and physical exercise of today's children also bear the blame.
That childhood obesity has the potential to take epidemic form is obvious with the way childhood obesity has increased in the last three decades. The obesity rate from 6.5% in children aged 6 to 11 years in 1980 has escalated by 20% in 2008 (Woodard, 2010). The alarming increase in the rate of obesity has thrown parents as well as experts into a state of anxiety. Many people share the opinion that there is a good reason to believe that the ads of McDonald’s and other fast food chains are, to a great extent, bear the responsibility of childhood obesity. McDonald’s owns over 40,000 restaurants world over with about 14,000 based in USA. The company also spends over $2 billion annually upon advertising (Woodard, 2010). Researchers have found that 77% of all the commercials shown on television come from McDonald’s and 29% from Burger King, another big fast food chain in USA. 79% of the commercials targeted to children are aired on children's channels like Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Nicktoons and Disney XD (Weller, 2013). Visual branding used in these commercials is more prominent than the ones meant for adults. A considerable portion of these commercials displays promotional tie-ins, food packaging and giveaways whereas the ads targeted at adults emphasized upon price, portion size and taste. Inevitably, children watching these commercials every day on screen get interested in trying the products of McDonald’s and harass their parents to take them to a McDonald’s outlet. The McDonald’s ads even give a peripheral view of the streets of McDonald’s outlets' locations so that children can easily spot them while driving by with their parents (Watson, 2013).
Besides television advertisements, McDonald’s also relies on in-store marketing to children by using tactics like giving toys of their favorite characters like Batman, Barbie and Shrek with Happy Meals. Considered as one of the biggest marketers of food to children, McDonald’s’s has sold the Happy Meals worth $3.4 billion in 2003, and that constitutes about 20% of the overall sales of the company (Jacobson, 2010). McDonald’s like many other fast food chain stores lure the kids with the offer of free toys and popular movies. As per the report presented by the Federal Trade Commission, fast food companies including McDonald’s had spent about $360 million in 2006 on toys alone to attract and sell meals to children (Jacobson, 2010). Undoubtedly, with the help of these techniques, McDonald’s is successful in arresting the attention of children, and this shows in the awareness of even a toddler about the McDonald’s logo. A group of doctors from Stanford University recently came up with the finding in their study that children cherish the notion that a number of food items including carrots and milk taste better when served in McDonald’s packaging (Woodard, 2010).
McDonald’s claim that its foods are healthy and nutritious for children and that it takes pride in its long heritage of responsible communication with its customers, especially children is utter hogwash because every single meal offered in the Happy Meal menu is of high calorie. Almost all the food items featured in the Happy Meal menu amounts to more than one third of an average child's recommended intake of 1,300 calories per day (Jacobson, 2010). The portions of food served by McDonald’s also have increased significantly from the past years. This is more to do with the trend that has seen an increase in the amount of food portions reserved for per capita. In recent times, starting from cookie to muffins, cooked pasta, steaks and bagels, the portion of food consumed by people today compared to that of yesterday has increased considerably (Velous). In keeping with the trend, the fast-food offerings have also increased in size. There was a time when McDonald's like its contemporary fast food chains including Burger King and Wendy's used to offer only size of French Fries, but today that size is considered to be small. The large size of French fries available today used to be similar to the 'supersize' of the same in 1999. The largest pack of French fries served by McDonald's now contains 610 calories (Velous). Same way the large size soda offered with the meals has also increased in size. As the kids consume more calories per serving, they remain at higher risk of gaining obesity.
Several researches show that the tactics used to lure children by the fast food companies make a very long-lasting impression on children's minds. The children begin to develop their life long brand preferences by being exposed to this sort of commercials. They come to believe that eating junk foods is a normative food habit. The ad agencies responsible for designing the fast food commercials target children and manipulate them in such a way that children would drive their parents crazy with the demands to take them to a McDonald's outlet. Due to the ubiquitousness of the junk food ads and their constant stream on children's channels during their favorite cartoon shows and programmes, these ads easily trigger the behavior termed as "the pester factor" by the ad industry (Robbins, 2011). The children start craving for the junk foods so much that their parents feel forced to relent. Referring to the ads of McDonald's, Adam Hanft, a consumer marketing guru, stated "Happy Meals proved that you could actually 'brand' a meal and make children harass their parents for it" (Jacobson, 2010). Thus, companies like McDonald's employ an insidious marketing strategy spending billions of dollars on it in order to manipulate the children. The aggressive marketing strategy not only promotes the consumption of junk foods, it also breaks parental authority and shifts the responsibility of what children should eat on to the children themselves (Robbins, 2011).
Though the commercials are to be blamed to a great extent for the obesity epidemic, there is no denying the fact the lifestyles led by today's children also contribute to this phenomenon. Traditionally, there was a time when children used to play the games that involve a lot of physical activity like soccer, baseball and so on. However, with the advent and popularity of video games, social networking and a myriad of television shows, children spend a considerable amount of time sitting indoor playing games that involve no amount of physical activity or watching their favorite tele-shows (Thomson Reuters, 2013). Besides, many parents who also grew up eating fast foods from McDonald's do not have any inhibition towards introducing their own children to the habit of eating junk foods. As a result, children get exposed to junk foods at a very early age, and in the absence of no physical activity, the excess calories consumed from eating junk foods store in their bodies as fat leading to obesity.
In conclusion, advertising, which refers to a promotional communication to endorse a service or product, has a ubiquitous presence in the world. The impact of advertising can be both positive and negative, depending upon the way it is created and targeted. The aggressive marketing strategy put into place by fast food companies like McDonald’s targeting children not only promotes and extols the consumption of junk foods, but also leaves a lasting impression on children’s minds making them believe that eating junk foods is normative eating behavior. The colorful packaging, gifting of toys and tickets for movie shows are all ploys implemented by McDonald’s to manipulate children into craving and nurturing an unhealthy food habit. Undeniably, children too naïve to understand the marketing gimmicks fall for the attraction and hype of McDonald’s and start consuming junk foods at an early age. The lack of exercise and physical activity along with the poor diet also contribute to the growing phenomenon of the obesity epidemic. In order for children to remain healthy, it is not only important to ban all these insidious commercial strategies targeting children viewers, but also a healthy lifestyle constituted of adequate physical activity should be instilled in children from early on.
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