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    Maccas goes down the drain

    G’day Anthillians! Crafting a compelling advertising message is hard enough without the bleeding-heart regulators tut-tutting over your shoulder. But as Antagoniser extraordinaire Ray Beatty reveals, it’s just another day under dem Golden Arches. 

    (anonymous ant esquire)

    Advertising felt the crack of the big whip last month, particularly where children’s appetites are concerned. But it isn’t the obesity epidemic that has caused an expulsion from the airwaves.
    The Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) has ordered McDonald’s to pull a commercial promoting its Happy Meals off the air. It features a woman who loses a ring down a drain. Two girls climb into the drain to retrieve it and, in passing, battle with a two-headed green monster. Their reward is the treat of a McDonald’s Happy Meal.
    The problem was not the junk food without parental consent. It was the danger of children nipping down manholes, and then the stranger danger of going off with someone they didn’t know.
    In the same finding, Nando’s pole dancer got the all-clear. You know the one, with the business-suited mum who strips off to dance on poles? It was judged appropriate for its time slot. I still haven’t worked out whether it’s selling nicotine patches, chewing gum or chicken breast. No doubt the ASB thinks the kids are equally confused.
    Kelloggs have just announced a trashing of their advertising catalogue worldwide. Over the next 18 months, Shrek and Tony the Tiger will presumably disappear as the company vows to stop advertising unhealthy foods to children, including the promotion of those nag-factor toys in the cereal packets.
    This was not the totally altruistic decision you’d expect from the descendants of nutritionists Will and John Kellogg. It seems to have a lot to do with a $60 million law suit in the US by advocacy groups like the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Whatever the cause, Kelloggs has vowed to attack the 50 percent of its product line that does not meet their new standards of nutrition. They will either be reformulated or dumped.
    So has childhood advertising caused our bulging waistlines? There’s a lot of debate about that – a recent report from Bond University researcher Dr Jeffrey Brand declared the link "inconclusive". On the other hand the group Young Media Australia declared that advertising led to children eating fatty, salty, sugary and fast foods – and pestering their parents into submission.
    Should advertising during children’s television shows be banned? The UK did this two months ago, while Quebec has had a long-standing ban against any ads aimed directly at children.
    As someone who fought at the anti-censorship barricades thirty years ago, I’ve got to say that the idea of banning "politically incorrect" advertisements is repellent. I can see a case against ads that encourage kids to associate with strangers (sad as that is), but not because a kid is enjoying a hamburger.
    The ASB did find for the advertisers in a couple of other cases. A commercial for Toohey’s New beer shows dozens of tall inflated figures dancing to the Tom Jones standard, Help Yourself. A complaint from the Australian Drug Foundation claimed that the figures looked like a scene in toyland and should not be shown at a time when schoolchildren are succumbing to under-age drinking. The ASB disagreed and dismissed the complaint.
    But, of course, to raise the fury of the social conservatives, nothing works better than sex and alcohol. Recent times have seen a flood of complaints about ads that put more emphasis on the titillation than the flavour.
    James Boag has now run a long series of ads showing seemingly available models in various stages of undress. Hahn Superdry has been running its ads showing blokes being their most obnoxiously blokey (where the guy draws a heart in the sand and then puts two dots inside…). And Jim Beam even has a commercial indicating girls who prefer girls. All three campaigns have been cleared.
    But the PC tide surges on, with the regulators finally managing to separate booze from smokes. Can they also remove sex? Somehow, I doubt it.
    Ray Beatty runs MarketingSolutions, a consultancy advising companies on how to turn around their unsuccessful advertising campaigns. www.ebeatty.com
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