Information provided by the McLibel Support Campaign

Ronald McDonald Ad Ban Bid - You Can Help

Ronald McDonald Ad Ban Bid
Sunday Express, 10th October 1999

p1 'Smart Money' section.
- By Michelle Stanistreet
[See also p6 on EU proposals to ban all advertising to children.]

McDonald's is facing demands for a blanket ban on advertising to children from campaigners who claim it is manipulative and exploitative.

Dave Morris, one of the defendants in the 1997 'McLibel' case, in which McDonald's sued activists who claimed its burgers where unhealthy, cruelly produced and unethically marketed, has written to the Independent Television Commission (ITC) calling for the ban.

He says he will go to court if the ITC rules against him.

"We're calling on the public to flood the ITC with complaints and demand they carry out their statutory duty and ban McDonald's advertising" he says. Ronald McDonald, the public face of the burger giant, is hugely popular with children.

Morris claims the adverts break the ITC code by exhorting children to use 'pester power' to make parents take them to McDonald's.

McDonald's spends £2 billion on advertising each year. Vice President Mike Love said: "It is a matter for the ITC. There's nothing being said now that wasn't said three years ago and it was decided then that there was no need to take any action."

Although the hamburger chain won the trial, the judge upheld allegations that it paid low wages, was guilty of cruelly rearing some of its animals, and targeted children through its adverts.

McLibel Support Campaign
5 Caledonian Road, London, N1 9DX, UK
Tel/Fax 0171 713 1269
Internet info -

Dear friends,

We are supporting a campaign to get all McDonald's ads banned by the Independent Television Commission. This is on the grounds that the High Court judgment that McDonald's 'expoit children' [and other findings, including that their food has been deceptively promoted as 'nutritious' when in fact it is high in fat and salt and therefore linked to heart disease] means that their ads contravene the Guidelines that are supposed to regulate advertising in order to protect children. It is all explained comprehensively in the letter below. An injunction is being prepared to force the ITC to take action on this issue. The following standard letter has been written for people to add their name to... Please circulate the letter widely...

best wishes,
Dave, McLibel Support Campaign


To: ITC, Advertisements & Complaints From: [Your name and address]

33 Foley Street, London, W1P 7LB, UK


Dear Stephen Locke [Director - Advertising and Sponsorship],

Re: McDonald’s Advertising

I wish to make a serious complaint about the current television advertising of McDonalds Restaurants Ltd aimed at or viewed by children. Please find below my reasons. [The rules quoted are found on your web site].

Under the ITC Code, all advertisements must ‘comply in every respect with the law’, and ‘be applied in the spirit as well as the letter’.

Appendix 1, Rule 5: ‘Advertisements must not exhort children to purchase or to ask their parents or others to make enquiries or purchases.’

In the recent ‘McLibel’ trial [McDonald’s Corporation & Anr vs Steel & Morris], trial judge Mr Justice Bell ruled that it is a fact that McDonald’s ‘exploit children by using them, as more susceptible subjects of advertising, to pressurise their parents into going to McDonalds’ (June 1997)

McDonald’s have accepted (in a written submission to the Court of Appeal, 5.1.99) that the judge ‘was correct in his conclusions’. That is to say, they accept that they exploit children through their advertising - in direct contravention of the ITC’s published rules governing advertising to children. In fact, their strategy of systematic exploitation of pester-power is obviously far more serious than if they were to make a specific reference to this in a single advert (which is prohibited). Every parent of a young child, who has been subjected to this cumulative pester-power effect, knows this very real and infuriating pressure to go to McDonald’s.

The Corporation spends 2 billion dollars each year worldwide on marketing and advertising. In a recent interview [24.5.99] Mike Love, McDonald’s Vice-President of Communications, stated that McDonalds would not consider changing its advertising strategy because of the judgement of Mr. Justice Bell, showing an absolute disregard for what the Courts judge to be true. This demonstrates that McDonalds will continue to exploit children for the foreseeable future, unless they are stopped by the ITC.

There can be no doubt about your power and responsibility in this matter. On July 3rd 1997, when asked about the McLibel judgment, Junior Government Minister Mark Fischer [for the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, also responsible for the ITC] stated: ‘The Government recognise their special responsibility to protect children from exploitation, but the existing Code allows the ITC scope to act in their defence.’

McDonalds produce Happy Meals for children which are advertised as such. However, their Happy Meal Premiums (free toys) do not always come in sets of 4. Their 101 Dalmatian Disney collection came in a set of 101 distinctly different toys. That set was produced in sealed white plastic wrappers. That resulted in children not knowing which of the 101 entirely different toys they were to receive. McDonalds have also produced the ‘Beanie Babies’ premiums in a set of 30. These premiums run for 4 weeks, backed up by advertisements directed at children.

It is well known that children wish to collect anything collectable. However, to produce a large number over a four-week period, with the character of the toy unknown at the point of sale creates unnecessary competitiveness amongst children to be the first to collect the entire set, or to collect the entire set at all. This amplifies the ‘pester-power’ problem in contravention to Rule 5. The above is born out by the very fact that some of the sales of McDonalds Happy Meal premiums had to have restrictions placed upon them, as so many adults and children alike tried to buy as many as they could [5.1.99] and the stores could not meet the demand.

Guidance Rule 10.36 states: ‘Advertisements must not encourage or condone excessive consumption of any food.’ - The increase in meals per week needed to buy a substantial number of the premiums per four weekly cycle is likely to lead to an increase in consumption of food low in fibre, and high in fat and salt. This will lead to a detrimental, long term effect on a child’s physical health, also in contravention with Rule 1 (below).

Appendix 1, Rule 1 states: ‘At times when large numbers of children are likely to be viewing, no product or service may be advertised and no method (my emphasis) of advertising may be used which might result in harm to them physically (my emphasis), mentally, or morally, and no method of advertisement may be employed which takes advantage of the natural credulity and sense of loyalty (my emphasis) of children.’

But the McDonald’s Corporation's secret 'Operations Manual', the instruction book for every local store manager, explains the company’s strategy for targeting young children: 'Ronald loves McDonald's and McDonald's food. And so do children, because they love Ronald. Remember, children exert a phenomenal influence when it comes to restaurant selection. This means you should do everything you can to appeal to children's love for Ronald and McDonald's'. It adds that offering toys is ‘one of the best make them loyal supporters’. In the witness box during the McLibel trial David Green, the Corporation's Head of Marketing, from Chicago, recognised that McDonald’s ‘could change people’s eating habits’, and said that children were 'virgin ground as far as marketing is concerned'. Their UK Marketing Services Manager Alistair Fairgreave stated: 'It is our [general] objective to dominate the communications arena...because we are competing for a share of the customer's mind.'

The Court of Appeal, in the appeal by the defendants in the McLibel case, concluded: "If one eats enough McDonalds food, one’s diet may well become high in fat etc., with the very real risk of heart disease…(this last finding) must have a serious effect on their trading reputation since it goes to the very business in which they are engaged." (March 1999) In the original trial the judge had ruled that such a risk of heart disease would be made the more likely for people who ate at McDonald’s often and over a long period of time ‘encouraged by [McDonald’s] advertising’. He further ruled that McDonald’s deceptively portray their food, in reality high in fat and salt and low in fibre, as ‘nutritious’. These three rulings, taken together, and compounded with the targetting and exploitation of children (who are the most vulnerable to the manipulation of long-term dietary patterns) surely demonstrate a conscious and systematic breach of the spirit and the letter of the ITC Guidelines. McDonalds view children as their future customers, and so wish to introduce them into a life of eating this kind of unhealthy food regularly from an early age. This is seriously detrimental to their health.

For the above reasons I urge the ITC to cease all McDonalds advertisements that are directed at children. I then urge the ITC to review all rules, and their implementation, regarding advertisements to children - to ensure effective protection against exploitation and pester-power, and to include the banning of advertising of unhealthy food products. There is a great deal of concern over these issues, shared by many child welfare, consumer and health organisations* - and the need for a review has been very carefully outlined to you on their behalf in the past by the National Food Alliance [now known as Sustain] Working Party on Advertising. It should be noted that in Australia no advertising is allowed during pre-school programming, and in Sweden all advertising to children is banned.

I look forward to reading a considered opinion within the next 28 days.

Yours faithfully

[your signature]


* E.g. Association of Community Health Councils, British Dietetic Association, National Heart Forum, GMB Union, Institute of Trading Standards Administration, The Children’s Society, National Confederation of Parent Teachers Associations, National Farmers Union, National Federation of Consumer Groups, TGWU, UK Public Health Association, World Cancer Research Fund.


Note: All the references regarding McDonald’s and the McLibel trial can be supplied on request by the McLibel Support Campaign: 5, Caledonian Rd, London N1