The advertising watchdog has expressed “disappointment” with McDonald’s Australia after catching the fast food giant skirting the same industry rules for advertising to children it breached last year.
The Ad Standards board has this month ruled McDonald’s broke ranks with responsible advertising standards when it attached Happy Meal vouchers to kids sports awards earlier this year.
McDonald’s was handing out Happy Meal vouchers, depicting meals with apple slices, chicken nuggets and water, which it argued “encourages a healthy lifestyle”.
However, the vouchers are also able to redeem a less healthy version of the meal, comprising chips and soft drink.
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McDonald’s argued children can’t redeem the voucher without a parent or guardian present, but the board found they were trying to target children.
“The voucher itself is presented to the child and is therefore considered as marketing material directed primarily to children,” the board said.
“Most children would be aware of the other options available for a Happy Meal and that the voucher would therefore be considered to be for any happy meal, not just the healthier choice option.”
But it’s not the first time McDonald’s has been pulled up for the same thing, around this time last year the restaurant chain was pulled up for providing “man of the match” certificates to children after a soccer game which included $5 McDonald’s vouchers.
The complainant is also the same person:
“I submitted a complaint about this same award last year and the complaint was upheld,” they said.
“I was told that Ad Standards couldn’t ask McDonalds to withdraw the vouchers from circulation.
“However, this year they have done the same thing – providing a food voucher to children – this is considered advertising of a happy meal to children.”
McDonald’s Australia is a signatory of the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative for Responsible Advertising and Marketing to Children (QSRI), administered by industry group the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC).
Earlier this year McDonald’s was forced to suspend a mobile application targeted at children after the Obesity Policy Council complained to the advertising watchdog.
The ad standards, which board serves as an independent body hearing complaints under the code, wasn’t impressed by McDonald’s repeat offending.
“The Panel expressed disappointment that the advertisement was upheld for the same reason as the previous case, and asked that McDonald’s take stronger steps to ensure compliance with the QSRI,” the board said.
When McDonald’s breached the code by handing out vouchers to kids last year it signalled it would continue the practice, blaming an isolated incident for the 2018 complaint.
As a signatory to the code the chain has previously claimed being a “socially responsible company is part of our heritage”.
“We will meet each of the core principles outlined in the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative for Responsible Advertising and Marketing,” Mcdonald’s has previously said.
An AFGC spokesperson said the case is “disappointing” but overall compliance with the QSRI code was over 99% last year.
“The AFGC supports the ASB’s independent findings and encourage ongoing compliance for signatories,” the spokesperson said.
“Further AFGC supports that signatories must comply with decisions of the Ad Standards Community Panel, which has the authority to include removing or amending non-compliant advertising and marketing communications.
“The AFGC and its members remain committed to the Code and we will work with signatories to towards ensuring we reduce advertising and marketing communications to children for food and beverage products that do not represent healthier choices.”
McDonald’s Australia has been contacted for comment.