McDonald's to boost child ads

More campaigns for children are "good for business", the fast-food giant's marketing chief argues.

McDonald's has bucked the industry trend by controversially pledging to step up its marketing to children, but plans to focus its efforts on promoting balanced diets and active lifestyles.

Larry Light, the McDonald's chief marketing officer, told Campaign: "We have great credibility with children, they listen to us more than they do to their parents. We will still advertise burgers to children but we will say that if you want a burger, then re-examine what you eat with it.

"The beauty of this is that it is good for business. If we offer you choice, you won't search for balance somewhere else."

And speaking earlier this week at the ISBA annual conference, Light said restriction or regulation of marketing to children was wrong. "We do not need less communication to children, we need more," he said.

Light's comments were made as the fast-food company launched a £7.4 million commitment to a new global advertising campaign based around the slogan: "It's what I eat and what I do ... I'm lovin' it." The campaign features the tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams.

In the UK, McDonald's will add carrot sticks, chicken grills, Wobble-icious fruit jelly, Robinson's Apple Fruit Shoot and no-added-sugar Sprite Z to its menu - a process that will double the number of Happy Meal combinations from 54 to 108.

The burger chain has earmarked an additional £3.65 million for UK TV advertising in 2005, which will feature fruit and vegetables in all of its Happy Meal campaigns. The first ad, which was created by Leo Burnett, launches on 24 March. A £1 million UK "it's what I eat and what I do" campaign will also launch this year featuring Olympic hopefuls. A second campaign starring the animated characters the YumChums is also planned.

Also at the conference, Light outlined the McDonald's seven-point self-regulation charter, which will form the basis of the company's communication with children around the world.

Earlier, the director-general of the European Union, Robert Madelin, told delegates that the EU supported self-regulation of junk-food advertising in principle and called for the industry to become involved with the EU's obesity platform, which is due to launch next week.

Separately, the Ofcom chief executive, Stephen Carter, told ISBA that a change in the law to allow product placement on TV was something the regulator was considering. "We have had it for years in films without viewer detriment," he said. "In principle, why not in television?"

- Perspective, page 19

- Comment, page 36.