Wednesday, May 29, 2013

McDonalds, Advertising, and A 9 Year Old Using Her Voice

When Kevin was about six years old, we went to Blockbuster video to rent a movie. At the cash register was the movie poster for the horror film, Thirteen Ghosts. When Kevin first saw it, he was startled.

Imagine you're six, and this is a poster is almost the same size as you.

"Mommy, that poster is scary. Why do they have it here, where kids have to look at it?" I asked him to explain what he thought to me in more detail. He cocked his little head to one side thoughtfully, his big blue eyes full of questions.

"Well, it would be okay over with the scary movies, because that's where the adults go anyway. It's a grown up movie. But here where we pay, all kinds of little kids are with their parents and have to look at it. It's not fair to them. It's not fair to ME. I don't want to see that. What if it gives kids nightmares? Can't they put something that's not so scary here?"

His logic was completely undeniable.

"Honey, you are right. Absolutely. And you know what? I think you should tell the manager of the store this. There is nothing wrong with having an opinion, or saying how you feel, if you do it respectfully. You do have a voice. I think you need to use it."

Kevin then very politely asked to speak to the manager and when he came, told him exactly what he had told me. The manager looked at me, expecting that this speech was coming from me, channeled through my child.

"It's all him," I replied. "I didn't even notice the poster."

A few days later when we returned the movie back to Blockbuster, the poster had been moved. I pointed this out to Kevin and told him that because he stated how he felt respectfully and made a very good point, someone listened to him and he helped them to think a little more about other kids going through the cash register.

Kids see things we adults don't even think about sometimes. We're so accustomed to how things are, or have been for years, that we don't even notice anymore. Kids notice, and they listen. They have opinions, and it's important that we grown ups listen to them. This is why I was so thrilled to hear about my friend Kia's daughter Hannah taking the CEO of McDonald's to task. What disappoints me though is how it's being reported, because news outlets are completely missing the mark-as are the comments of people reading them.

What Hannah asked the CEO of McDonalds was NOT to stop serving fries or make their food healthier. We all know that fast food companies do that, it's how they make their money, and they can serve whatever they want. What she said was that she didn't like was McDonalds marketing that was directed at kids. 

Huh. Totally different. Sure, serve all the fries and burgers you want, but when you dress it up in cartoon characters and put toys with it and then put it in front of a child who can't even cross the street by themselves, that's not fair.

Hannah is in their target market. Her Mom doesn't even have to take her McDonalds for her to be affected by their advertising, because McDonalds also sponsors reading programs in some schools (Happy Meals for all if you read x amount of books!), and children's programming is rife with commercials. At nine years old, she's already seen 25,000 commercials PER YEAR. That is insane.

Turn the TV off, some argue. Don't eat there. It's a free country. Take some personal responsibility.

Which I agree with to a point, but in all honesty, you can't get away from it. Advertising is everywhere-creeping into every aspect of our lives, and why should people have to pretty much live under a rock to escape it, especially children who don't even understand the ramifications of what they are watching?

Hannah used her voice, respectfully, to voice her opinion about something that she felt was damaging to all kids, especially those younger than her who can't speak for themselves. The response has been, according to her Mom Kia, 60% positive and 40% negative. The comments that I have read have been, at times, downright vicious.  I find it interesting that Hannah Alper, a 9 year old eco blogger has also taken on issues, but nobody accuses her parents of feeding her what to say or calling them bad parents because she questions things. Instead they praise her for her intelligence and say how inspiring she is. How is there really any difference? Is fast food really so sacred and engrained in our culture that it's okay to attack a child who politely asks a company to stop advertising directly at kids?

Huh. Maybe McDonalds has done a better job of marketing than we thought.

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