Wednesday, December 15, 2010

McDonald's sued for Happy Meal toys

A class action lawsuit was filed against McDonald's here on Wednesday, alleging that the fast food chain's practice of giving toys with children's meals is deceptive to children.

A mother of two from California and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) filed the suit in California Superior Court in San Francisco on Wednesday morning.

According to Monet Parham, the main reason her six-year-old daughter asks to go to McDonald's is to get toys like Barbie and Shrek. The food seems almost beside the point to the kids because the toy monopolized the attention of the two kids, she said.

The CSPI said in a press release that the Parham family's experience is not accidental but entirely by design of McDonald's marketing strategy.

McDonald's "gets into the parents' wallets via the kids' minds," according to an online presentation by Martin Lindstrom, who advises McDonald's on branding and "neuromarketing."

Documents cited by the CSPI show that fast-food companies -- with McDonald's by far in the lead -- spent over 520 million U.S. dollars in 2006 on advertising and toys to market children's meals while toy premiums made up almost three-quarters of those expenses, totaling over 350 million.

The CSPI said that according to the Institute of Medicine and the American Psychological Association, kids as young as Parham's daughter do not have the cognitive maturity to understand the persuasive intent of advertising.

"Every time McDonald's markets a Happy Meal directly to a young child, it exploits a child's developmental vulnerability and violates several states' consumer protection laws, including the California Unfair Competition Law," said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner.

Last month, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to prohibit fast-food restaurants from giving toys with children's meals that don't meet nutritional guidelines.


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