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15/10/03 . by Jennifer Whitehead . Brand Republic . London
McDonald's under fire for Sesame Street sponsorship
A protest group backed by former presidential candidate Ralph Nader has called on fast-food giant McDonald's to be dropped as sponsor of the children's TV show 'Sesame Street' over obesity fears.
McDonald's currently runs sponsorship messages before and after 'Sesame Street', which is shown on the Public Broadcasting System, the US eqivalent of the BBC.
The pressure group Commercial Alert has written a letter to Gary Knell, president and chief executive officer of Sesame Workshop, asking him to remove the messages immediately.
The letter says: "Regrettably, 'Sesame Street' has now become yet another advertising vehicle for McDonald's to hook a new generation of children on its high-calorie junk food.
"Is it really the proper role of 'Sesame Street' to seduce young children to nag their parents to take them to McDonald's? Should you not promote healthful eating habits rather than junk-food eating habits?"
The letter is the latest development in the growing complaints against McDonald's and the role of fast-food companies in the global obesity epidemic. Earlier this year, McDonald's saw a lawsuit brought by two teenagers in New York thrown out of court. The teenagers had blamed McDonald's for their obesity, saying that their advertising encouraged them to buy more food and that there wasn't enough nutritional information.
The chain is responding to concerns by developing new items for the menu, such as fresh fruit and salads. It has also recruited Oprah Winfrey's personal trainer Bob Greene to create a healthy version of the Happy Meal for adults, which will see diners given a free pedometer to encourage them to walk or jog.
At the same time, it has launched a global advertising campaign featuring the singer Justin Timberlake and the strapline "I'm lovin' it" in a bid to boost flagging sales. One element of the campaign will feature the skateboarder Tony Hawk, who has been brought in to target young people.
Commercial Alert is a not-for-profit organisation that campaigns to protect children and communities from commercialism. Nader, who stood for US President in 2000 representing the Green Party, is chair of the advisory board.
During his own presidential campaign, which helped to lose the Democrats the election to George W Bush, Nader ran into trouble for parodying well-known campaigns, including MasterCard, which decided to sue him for borrowing its "priceless" tagline.
The letter to Sesame Workshop is signed by numerous dietary experts, as well as authors such as Frances Moore Lappe, who write 'Diet for a Small Planet' and Jean Kilbourne, who write 'Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel'. The organisation has previously lobbied against 'Teletubbies' over links in the US to McDonald's and Burger King.
Sesame Workshop was founded in 1968 and produces 'Sesame Street', which is shown in 120 countries around the world. It has a philosophy of producing programmes that are both engaging and enriching.
(see also http://www.mcspotlight.org/media/press/mcds/adagecom141003.html)