By: Matt Griswold
While McDonald’s has complied with recent FTC demands by taking down some of its online games for kids, this is still not enough. After quickly inspecting HappyMeal.com it is no wonder why young children are easily susceptible to passing along E-Cards and other typical promotional junk mail.
The game itself, McWorld (clever, huh?) combines the powers of social media akin to Facebook and the addicting formula of RPGs (Role Playing Games) that blockbuster triple A gaming titles such as Mass Effect and Elder Scrolls have used for years. Children are allowed to create an account and a personal mPal. Later on, they are given the opportunity to enter in an m-Code that is secretly a coupon deployed by McDonald’s in a not so subtle way. After someone enters McWorld, they are given the opportunity to chat with friends online and interact with other users and friends, which is very similar to features supported on Facebook. Children are also allowed to update their own created mPal with different clothing. Entering m-Codes (the coupons) allows children to update and modify their personal mPal similarly to modifying a character in Mass Effect or Elder Scrolls.
It’s no secret that McDonald’s highly evolving world of advertising to children is a large part of their success, but by using key addictive elements found in intellectual properties meant for adults, McDonald’s crosses the line. Think about it for a moment. While the site states right at the top of the page, “Hey kids, this is advertising,” how much, if at all, do kids pay attention to such small text? Should it be expected of young children to be able to make reasonable choices about advertising that even adults struggle with? Is it fair to presume that if adults can be hooked on social media sites and games that it would also work on children? The answer to both questions is a resounding yes.
The bottom line is that McDonald’s has and always will target young children in their advertisements and will continue to be successful at it. Unfortunately, using digital interactive media to advertise to children is flat out wrong. There are other creative advertising ploys that can be used and would be just as successful. At the same time, other advertising methods would be much less detrimental to children’s privacy and would not require the use of passing along E-Cards and other promotional junk through m-Codes. In conclusion, while the FTC is doing as much as it can to abridge McDonald’s online games and advertisements towards children, McDonald’s needs to take a proactive stance itself.