McDonald’s forced to suspend children’s app after advertising watchdog complaint


A McDonald's Big Mac. Source: AAP/Richard B Levine.

McDonald’s has been forced to remove its children-focused mobile app from Google Play and the App Store after being chastised by the advertising watchdog.

The fast-food giant ran afoul of the Ad Standards board for cherry-picking which Happy Meal options it presented in marketing materials within the mobile game.

The case, decided earlier this month, was brought on by an Obesity Policy Council (OPC) complaint which accused Maccas of breaching a responsible advertising code.

The Happy Studio app has over a million downloads and is designed specifically to appeal to children between 6-12 with various video games featuring personified Happy Meals.

The complaint criticised Maccas for only presenting Happy Meals with “healthier” options such as a chicken wrap, apple slices and flavoured milk within the app, when the actual meals have unhealthy options.

The Ad Standards board agreed with the essence of OPC’s complaint, deciding to uphold it.

“The Panel considered that that [sic] the advertised product does not meet the requirements of the QSR Initiative by only advertising those products that meet the nutrition criteria, as the advertisement is an advertisement for all Happy Meals, some of which do not meet the nutrition criteria,” the panel said.

Specifically, the app constituted a breach of the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative (QSRI) for Responsible Advertising and Marketing to Children, schedules 1.1 and 1.3.

In a response provided to the Ad Standards board, McDonald’s said it was “disappointed” with the outcome.

“We were disappointed with the outcome of the complaint, however, we will respect the final decision from Ad Standards,” the company said.

“McDonald’s continues to remain committed to ensuring compliance with the QSRI and accordingly have removed the Happy Studio application from Google Play/App Store.

“The application will be modified to comply with the QSRI and made available again mid-March 2019.”

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