McDonald’s will debut its previously promised new health-focused national campaign for its Happy Meal kids’ meals this week.
All new TV commercials will promote what parent company McDonald’s Corp. calls active lifestyles and the brand’s commitments to improved nutrition, including the automatic servings of apple slices and kid-size portions of French fries.
“For the first time, 100 percent of our national marketing efforts to kids will include nutrition or active-lifestyle messages, a significant move in our ongoing commitment to children’s wellbeing,” Neil Golden, chief marketing officer for McDonald’s USA, said in a statement on Monday. “We are proud of this new approach and believe it will help make nutrition fun for kids while helping families feel even better about the food choices they make when visiting McDonald’s.”
The first TV commercial, debuting nationally on Wednesday, is an animated spot featuring an active child named Ferris, whose pet goat eats everything in sight. In order to get the goat to eat a balanced meal with fruit and dairy, Ferris and his parents take the goat to McDonald’s, where a Happy Meal offers apple slices and fat-free milk to go along with small portions of Chicken McNuggets and French fries.
Watch the commercial; story continues below
In future commercials, new advertising characters like Ant, Dodo and Deana the Dino will promote balanced eating and physical activity, replacing the long-dormant cast of Grimace, Hamburglar and Mayor McCheese, the brand said. McDonald’s added that Ronald McDonald would remain the company’s mascot and still would appear in advertisements and local causes like the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
The company also is encouraging parental involvement with its Happy Meal Chefs contest, running now through April 18. Parent-child teams may submit a short online video displaying the ways in which their families get creative at mealtimes and try to eat healthfully. Two grand-prize winners will win an apprenticeship as “Happy Meal Chefs” with Dan Coudreaut, McDonald’s executive chef.
Ten prize winners also will win a trip to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, as part of McDonald’s Champions of Play program, the arm of its Olympic sponsorship intended to promote child nutrition and fitness. The brand’s marketing ambassador, Olympic swimmer Dara Torres, is a judge for the Happy Meal Chefs contest.
Over the past few years, McDonald’s has borne the brunt of social activists’ calls for restaurants to be held accountable for the rise in childhood obesity in the United States.
Consumer watchdog the Center for Science in the Public Interest sued McDonald’s in December 2010 for deceptive marketing practices toward children, claiming that Happy Meal toys induced children and their parents to order food that was unhealthful. The chain also was the target in an ordinance in San Francisco that banned the sale of children’s toys in restaurant meals.
McDonald’s and Burger King responded to that legislation last December by selling children’s toys for 10 cents rather than including them for free in kids’ meals in San Francisco.
Other restaurant industry watchers like Corporate Accountability International repeatedly call on McDonald’s to end its advertising toward children with Ronald McDonald. The brand has refused those calls, citing the good Ronald McDonald does as an ambassador for Ronald McDonald House Charities and the personal responsibility parents have in directing children’s food choices.
The Oak Brook, Ill.-based company operates or franchises more than 33,000 restaurants in 119 countries.