Marketing strategies that target children

A study reported here found that young children think that food branded with the McDonalds label tastes better than food without a brand.  63 children from 3-5 years of age were provided with two identical samples of food, both sourced from McDonalds, but one packaged with the Macdonalds brand and one packaged with no brand.

The study found that a significant number of children said that the McDonalds packaged sample tasted better. 

On occassions we visit McDonalds for dinner and our children are attracted to the toys.  In many respects the toys become the main attraction, and are even talked about amongst children in pre-school and early school.  At a young age children are instilled with the impression as to where they received the toy and, if others of their age have the same toy, the knowledge that they to have visited this place.  Using an evidence based approach to assess the long-term impact of this impression is difficult. 


It is on rare occasions that we visit, and on rare occasions we purchase the healthier option of the ‘happy meal’.  McDonalds has come a long way towards providing consumers with healthier options, including childrens meals.


However, the marketing strategies that combine targeted communications aimed at children using high profile brands (such as movies) for unhealthy meals is in my view innapropriate. 


The ALP has promised to restrict the use of high profile brands for promotion of take-away foods.  The Coalition Government has retained the current status quo.


My view is that policy should go further than what is proposed by the ALP.  The provision of toys for unhealthy meals should be prohibited.  A criteria could be used to ascertain when a toy can be provided, and if it is then it should not use high profile brands.  On occasions we go to Subway and it appears our children are just as much delighted in the general brand toy as they are when we visit McDonalds, the difference is it doesn’t leave an impression in their mind when talking to other children their age. 


It is important to consider the counter-argument that parent’s should not be restricted in their scope of choice, and that allocating toys to healthy meal options creates the wrong impression.  There is a counter-argument that regulation would be costly, but all the sale outlets that provide toys that I am aware of are franchises assisted by centralised productions.


In light of the above research and considering the long-term impact to children I feel stronger measures should be taken to reform the status quo.


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