McDonald's Faces Happy Meals Fight In Big Apple

The New York Post, in its imitable tabloidese, lays the blame at the rather formidable torso of the messenger: "McDonald's may soon be serving burgers with cries," it weeps. "A portly city councilman wants to yank toys from the fast-food chain's Happy Meals to stop encouraging kids to scarf down too much greasy grub."

Sally Goldenberg, Amber Sutherland and Jeremy Olshan, with additional reporting by Annabelle Nyst, are all over the story, garnering official McDonald's responses ("taking away toys from kids' meals won't solve childhood obesity") as well as a parting man-in-the-seat reaction that the McDonald's PR folks must be salivating over as if it we're a double Big Mac with supersized fries: "McDonald's has had toys in their Happy Meals since I was a kid," the restaurant patron says. "It's a tradition."



The Daily News also could not resist the irony of a "rotund" councilman from Queens, Leroy Comrie, introducing the Fast Food Toy Ban Bill, which would limit any meal that comes with a toy to under 500 calories.

Comrie tells Simone Weichselbaum, who evidently got the beat on the story Tuesday evening, that he is an example of exactly what he'd like to prevent: "If you look at me. I enjoy fast food and unhealthy eating." She looked and estimated that the paunchy pol tips the scales upwards of 300 pounds.

New England Consulting Group, perhaps throwing reporters a bone after canceling a "Martinis, Media & Marketing" event scheduled at the Penn Club last night due to an unexpected out-of-town client engagement, emailed a press release yesterday headlined "With Proposed Toy Ban, New Yorkers Wait for an Unhappy Meal."

The firm coined the term "hyperdiobesity" to focus attention on the co-morbidity of hypertension, diabetes and obesity and is "well-known for its work in health, wellness and nutrition," according to the document. "Nevertheless, Gary Stibel, founder and CEO, ... believes that depriving kids of toys in Happy Meals is as un-American as depriving communities of Christmas trees. (Stibel is Jewish and loves the city of New York)."

About a year ago, Stibel rued the disappearance of Ronald McDonald from restaurants and advertising in a article. The retirement parties being staged in various restaurants at the time were not sitting well with him. "This is about people who have too much time on their hands, and ought to be out doing good, like Ronald McDonald is," he told Thomas Rogers.

Stibel must be cheered, then, by Annie Gasparro's story in the Wall Street Journal this morning, which leads with the news that McDonald's "is putting its longtime mascot Ronald McDonald back on television and bolstering his Web presence, resetting its sights on kids after a recent push to target adults with specialty coffee drinks and smoothies." But the first spots hit the airwaves yesterday at, perhaps, "an inopportune time," she writes, what with the New York City Council members attacking McDonald's for its "predatory marketing technique."

USA Today's Bruce Horovitz actually broke the news of the new spots' imminent arrival last week. Marlena Peleo-Lazar, McDonald's global chief creative officer, told Horovitz that the red-headed clown was more than a spokesman. "Ronald's job is to promote joy, fun and the spontaneity of the brand. He never does a hard sell."

Over at the New York Times, Liz Robbins diligently gathers quotes on both sides of the issue, including one from Elisabeth Cabrera, 25, who "had used the Kitten Flower Clip top inside a Happy Meal as an incentive for her daughter, Jocelyn, 3, to behave during Ms. Cabrera's doctor's appointment." Reasons Cabrera: "I would not give her this every day, but today she deserves it because she did good. She doesn't like to eat, so that's a motivation for her to eat something."

In November, you may recall, San Francisco's board of supervisors voted to ban most of McDonald's Happy Meals as they are now served in the restaurants. Its measure also requires restaurants to provide fruits and vegetables with all meals for children that come with toys, Sharon Bernstein reports in the Los Angeles Times.

I did not see any coverage of the New York measure in Brandweek, Adweek or Ad Age. But the latter reported Monday: "Fast Feeder Launches Marketing Push to Hire 50,000 Workers While Dispelling Notion It's a Dead-End Employer."

McDonald's has declared April 19 as "National Hiring Day," according to reporter Maureen Morrison. Rick Wion, the social-media director at McDonald's USA, says it is embracing the term "McJob" and will "turn it on its ear." Evidently, more than 50% of McDonald's franchisees and 75% of its managers started as crew employees, including McDonald's USA president Jan Fields.

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