Parents are calling for an end to a McDonald’s Happy Meal promotion, launched in Australia at the start of August this year.
Children’s health advocacy group, The Parents’ Jury has submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Bureau calling for an end to the Happy Readers promotion.
Parents are particularly concerned about the digital element of the promotion, centred on an app called Happy Readers. The Happy Readers promotion gives children free books with the purchase of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. There are 10 hard copy books and 16 digital readers to collect in the series. The app is preloaded with 3 free titles, but to access other titles in the series, users have to input a unique code only obtained through purchasing a McDonald’s Happy Meal.
Alice Pryor, Campaigns Manager for The Parents’ Jury, said: “This app is clearly designed to appeal to, and be easily operated by, young children. What worries parents is the fact that the in-app bookstore and the Happy Meal box clearly display the titles that the child has yet to collect. To collect all 10 books and 16 digital readers, children would need to consume 23 Happy Meals in an 8 week period. That’s a lot of fast food in just two months and is certainly not recommended for healthy eating!
“It also concerns us that the in-app bookstore features the Happy Meal box character and although the Happy Meal highlighted in the app is a ‘heathier choice’, unfortunately, when a Happy Meal is purchased in store, the default food option is not usually the ‘healthier choice’.”
Mum of two from Melbourne, Cheryl McLeod, is unhappy about the McDonald’s promotion: “I hate the connotation that children can be “Happy Readers” while eating unhealthy food. This app is exploiting the fact that most parents will encourage reading and are happy to see children excited about collecting new titles. Children’s brains need nutritious food to develop properly and provide the concentration needed to read books, not the regular consumption of fast food that collecting this series of digital books encourages.”
McDonald’s has previously come under fire from health groups for its marketing of Happy Meals through toy giveaways, often linked to popular children’s movies. Promoting Happy Meals through digital media is a worrying development for parents as this is an area with little or no mandatory regulation.
Ms Pryor added: “McDonald’s is a fast food restaurant franchise, whose business is selling food not toys or books. Promotions which include a free toy or book with a meal entice children to request food and beverage products from McDonald’s and are not responsible marketing.”