Friday, April 2

Targeting Mascots: Corporate Accountability International

In one of the more absurd public relations campaign linkages to date, Corporate Accountability International is making the case that the best way to prevent childhood obesity is to retire Ronald McDonald. According to the release, the percentage of obese children has tripled in children ages 2-5, and quadrupled in children ages 6-11.

"This clown is no friend to our children or their health," said national spokesperson Stacey Folsomof, Corporate Accountability International. "No icon has ever been more effective in hooking kids on a harmful product. Kids have become more obese and less healthy on his watch. He's a deep-fried Joe Camel for the 21st century. He deserves a break, and so do our kids."

According to the release, parents have a growing recognition that the fast food industry is the primary driver, with close to 60 percent of Americans feeling that the industry is responsible for the growing epidemic. The report, Clowning With Kids' Health, analyzes how Ronald McDonald and other children's marketing are at the heart of current trends.

Highlights From The Clowning Study.

• Two out of three Americans have a favorable impression of Ronald McDonald, which is the result of positive branding for 50 years.
• More than half "favor stopping corporations from using cartoons and other children's characters to sell harmful products to children."
• 47 percent support retiring Ronald as a corporate mascot, with 46 percent of those with a favorable impression of him also wanting to retire him.

How My Son Debunked The Study.

Since nobody in our office could find any evidence of children, ages 2-5, riding up to McDonald's drive-thru windows on tricycles to support their habit of Happy Meals and shakes, I asked them how do these kids get the merch? Blank stares. So I asked my son, age 11. He's on spring break.

"The few times we ever go near McDonald's, Mom drives us," he said, then amused. "But the image of Ronald McDonald doesn't make me want hamburgers. I would blame the Hamburglar."

Interesting. Based on his input, we might conclude that parents who drive their kids to McDonald's excessively might actually be responsible for childhood obesity. Or, if you prefer the wit and wisdom of an 11-year-old boy exposed to countless commercials, it might be the dude in the striped pajamas.

More likely, the real curators of childhood obesity beyond parents are school cafeteria lunches. You see, with the exception of schools smart enough to adopt the National Farm to School Network, students seem to be served a nutritional menu that could be below even McDonald's standards. Still, I wasn't sure. So I asked one of our clients, Allen Wong, who manages Kung Fu Plaza in Las Vegas, since Thai food is generally considered the healthiest in the world.

He cited a February 2008 article in Edutopia that compared school lunches in the United States, Russia, and Japan. Americans are eating turkey dogs and tater tots. Russians are eating beef, beet soup, and rye bread. And Japanese students are eating wonton miso soup, spinach and Chinese cabbage, rice, and milk.

Interesting. Based on his input we might draw some other conclusions. First, if Corporate Accountability International really intended to do something about childhood obesity, it might start with school lunches or the candy and snacks some school districts use as rewards. Second, the study proves there is a healthy trend in this county to blame everybody for the purchasing decisions of parents, except the parents.

Of course, if you don't see any of these points as glimmers of truth, then all I can suggest is you better be careful this weekend. I heard that the Easter Bunny is in town and he's ready to force feed children baskets full of candy. Except at our house. He tends to leave coins tucked inside those plastic eggs.

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