The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) is demanding that McDonald's immediately stop the advertising, but the fast-food giant will not.
"McDonald's has a long-standing and rich heritage of supporting education and academic excellence," says spokesperson William Whitman. "This is a local program in Seminole County, Florida, that promotes academic excellence and rewards academic achievement."
The students received report cards last week in envelopes adorned with Ronald McDonald and promising a free Happy Meal to students with "good grades, behavior or attendance," said the CCFC. The envelopes are intended to transport report cards to and from home throughout the school year.
"This promotion takes in-school marketing to a new low," said Susan Linn, director of CCFC. "It bypasses parents and targets children directly with the message that doing well in school should be rewarded by a Happy Meal."
Whitman said the initiative is supported by the School Board of Seminole County and widely supported by the local community. "McDonald's does not advertise in schools. However, we continue to support education initiatives in the communities we serve," he said.
The CCFC acknowledged that McDonald's has pledged to advertise only its healthier options to children under 12 but said "the Happy Meal promotion explicitly mentions cheeseburgers, French fries, and soft drinks as options." Happy Meals featured on the report card can contain as many 710 calories, 28 grams of fat, or 35 grams of sugar, it said.
The company appeared to argue that the ads were targeted toward adults and not to children, saying: "McDonald's provides parents with Happy Meal choices including Chicken McNuggets made with white meat, hamburgers, cheeseburgers, apple dippers, apple juice and low-fat milk, so they can choose the Happy Meal that is appropriate for their child."