Would You Like a Side of Marketing With That Happy Meal?

Research shows that up until the age of 10 children are unable to distinguish between marketing information and the intent to persuade (Jolly 2011) and are at extremely influential stages of their life. Research also shows that eating behaviours established during these early years track into adulthood and contribute to long-term health and chronic disease risk (Grimm 2004). So is the marketing of fast-food products targeting children at these ages – such as happy meals, ethical? I think not.


Marketing Ethics is defined as ‘designing, packaging, pricing, advertising and distributing products in such a way that negative consequences to consumers, employees and society in general are avoided’ (Schiffman et al. 2014). Marketing ethics is a key part of the Societal Marketing Concept – that all marketers adhere to the principles of social responsibility in the marketing of their goods and services; that is they should endeavour to satisfy the needs and wants of their target markets in ways that preserve and enhance the well-being of consumers and society as a whole, while fulfilling the objectives of the organisation (Schiffman et al. 2014).

Ethical marketing is especially important when the target market is children – a key marketing demographic for many companies (Grimm 2004). A large area of concern is the marketing of unhealthy foods and beverages to children, especially given the link between consumption of high-energy, low-nutrition-value foods and beverages and obesity (Grimm 2004).

Take the classic McDonald’s Happy Meal:cheeseburger happy meal.png

With 639 calories and 940mgs of sodium per a cheeseburger Happy Meal (McDonald’s Australia 2016), a Happy Meal is not something that is considered a healthy choice or seen to ‘enhance the wellbeing of consumers’ (Schiffman et al. 2014). So is the marketing of this product to children through kid’s tv ads and interactive gaming websites acting in the best interests of the consumer or in the best interest of McDonald’s profits?

McDonald’s use the collectible toys included in the product as a key concept in the marketing to children, these toys are usually children’s favourite characters from new children’s movies and only available for a limited time only – encouraging consumers to act now.  A number of research findings show that the use of popular cartoon characters in the packaging of products can have an effect on children (Levin and Levin 2010), so is the use of these toys to assist in the marketing of unhealthy products to children who cannot yet understand the persuasive nature of marketing advertising ethical?


Are McDonald’s and other company’s using child-targeted marketing taking advantage of children’s underdeveloped interpretation skills to set them up for a lifetime of unhealthy consumption? or are they really acting in a way which enhances the ‘wellbeing of consumers and society as a whole’ ?

Do you think the marketing of fast-food to children is ethical?  Why/why not?


Braiker, B 2011, The Next Great American Consumer: Infants to 3-year-olds: They’re a new demographic marketers are hell-bent on reaching, Adweek, Viewed 10th May 2016 < http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/next-great-american-consumer-135207>

‘Fast Food Marketing to Children’ 2007, Public Health Communication, Vol. 1, pp 1-4, viewed 8th May 2016, <https://www.wpi.edu/Pubs/E-project/Available/E-project-082107-231740/unrestricted/Appendix_1.pdf>

Grimm, M 2004, ‘Is Marketing to Kids Ethical?’, Brandweek, Vol. 45, No. 14, pp 44-48

Jolly, R 2011, Marketing obesity? Junk food, advertising and kids, Parliament of Australia, Viewed 7th May 2016, <http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/rp1011/11rp09#_Toc282609505>

Levin, A & Levin I 2010, ‘Packaging of healthy and unhealthy food products for children and parents: The relative influence of licensed characters and brand names’, Journal of Consumer Behaviour, Vol. 9, pp. 393-402

McDonald’s Australia 2016, Nutrition, McDonald’s Australia, viewed 8th May 2016, <https://mcdonalds.com.au/maccas-food/nutrition>

Minions 2015,  Happy Meal Toys Collection Fan Site, viewed 10th May 2016 < http://hm.toysaffair.com/2015/05/happy-meal-toys-minions-movie-summer-2015.html#>

Schiffman, L, O’Cass, A, Paladino, A & Carlson, J 2014, Consumer Behaviour, 6th edition, Pearson, Australia




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