Imagine how much the headline raised the temperature of restaurant operators: “McDonald’s Fined $1.8 Million in Brazil for Happy Meal Toy Giveaway.”
If it could happen there, the initial steps have already been taken to make it happen here. The next headline could be: “McDonald’s CEO Skinner arrested for selling Kids Meals with toys.” Subhead: “Ronald’s not going anywhere” statement to be prosecution keynote at his trial.”
Of course the McDonald’s franchisee, Arcos Dorados, is appealing the fine by the government of Sao Paulo, which was triggered by a Brazilian nonprofit called Instituto Alana. The organization is run by a woman who has a $3.2 billion fortune and is the 11th wealthiest person in Brazil, according to Forbes.
Here’s a thought: How many kids could this woman make happy by using her money to buy them toys? But how many parents would want this person to be involved with their families, telling them how to live and what their kids should eat?
Brazil’s self-regulatory body, Conar, rejected the claim by Instituto Alana, and a business magazine said, “The Institute hates small children and doesn’t have the Stalinist right to decide how parents raise their children and form their habits. From what we hear about the vitality of Brazil and the extraordinary growth of the country, it seems that such institutional interference should be virtually inconceivable today. Does anyone remember the Peron dictatorship? Haven’t they seen 'Evita?'”
Those who think that it can’t happen here probably thought that local governments wouldn’t prohibit the sale of kids meals with toys. And they were totally blind-sided by the coalition of federal agencies who issued “guidelines” for the kinds of foods that can be advertised on children’s television.
Compare these wholesale, total population effects with the anger so many people express over the collection of personal information by social media and marketers. In either case, strangers are selling you ideas and telling you how you should be guiding your children.
This writer’s hope is that Arcos Dorados and McDonald’s will fight the Brazilian situation as hard and as far as possible. A compromise or settlement will only encourage the similar groups in the U.S. and elsewhere to keep swiping at the marketing of kids meals, and take another step toward parental responsibility moving outside of the home. As I’ve said many times, parents should control the eating habits of their children as they have been doing forever. Mandatory regulations, and ridiculous penalties for enforcing them, are barriers to the freedom we expect as Americans. When it comes to deciding on the eating choices of children, that’s a job for Mom and Dad -- not some wealthy individual whose opinions are ego-driven and holier than ours.
The restaurant industry needs to pay attention to this issue, voicing our protests when we are given the opportunity. Jim Skinner is a good guy, doing a great job for McDonald’s. Let’s do our best to keep him from being arrested.
Barry Klein is best known for creating the Ronald McDonald character and led the "You Deserve A Break Today" advertising campaign for McDonald's. In his current occupation as a marketing consultant, Klein has developed business-building concepts, new products and more for Coca Cola, Pizza Hut, Quiznos, Cadillac, Ruby Tuesday, Friendlys, Perkins, Pay Less Shoes and others. He has been a key contributor to such projects as Stuffed Crust Pizza for Pizza Hut, Prime Rib Subs and Torpedoes for Quizno