A week before last year’s Justin Timberlake endorsed World Children’s Day (“November 20 at McDonald’s – Save the date to help the world’s children” © McDonald’s), McDonald’s formally announced its intent to further extend the brand with the launch of “McKids”, an ambitious plan to license the McDonald’s brand name to a range of companies including Creative Designs, Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc. among others. From Spring 2004, a range of “top quality, action-oriented toys, casual contemporary clothing, interactive videos and books, all reflecting today’s active lifestyles” will be available in stores in the US, Canada, Mexico, Japan, China, Australia, Korea and Taiwan, with plans to expand the range to a number of other countries. US retailers already signed up to sell the McKids range include Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and Target.
According to Larry Light, McDonald’s Global Chief Marketing Officer, the business potential for McKids is huge, “it will unify all our retail licensed products under one brand, with one brand look and one brand vision. It’s all about connecting with consumers in fresh, relevant ways both inside and outside our restaurants.”
Certainly, the launch of McKids would provide a convenient and lucrative alternative to advertising, should the lobbies currently calling for a ban on advertising to children by companies that make fatty foods yield any kind of results. McKids would be one possible way to bypass such a ban and to further grow the already saturated McDonald’s brand amongst its core target audience – children. Although the McKids range won’t be sold in McDonald’s restaurants, it will at least be promoted there, providing parents with the opportunity to try out new variations of old phrases for size (“Do toys go with that shake?”).
McKids may well be “one more strategic element in the company’s ongoing revitalization plan that has helped usher in a new era of marketing at McDonald’s” as Larry Light puts it, but current global obesity worries have set the alarm bells ringing. The World Health Organisation has identified obesity as a global problem, claiming that over 300 million people are now obese.
Orlando Congressman Ric Keller’s Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act (better known as the “Cheeseburger Bill”), which would ban “frivolous” obesity lawsuits being brought against the food industry, won the approval of the US House of Representatives last month( Editor’s note – March 2004), prompting fast food critics to claim that the Bill put profit before public health – the courts, not Congress, should decide the frivolity or otherwise of obesity lawsuits. Praising the Bill, House Leader Tom Delay said that “Ronald McDonald made me do it” should no longer be considered a legitimate basis for litigation. “This issue isn’t about any restaurant or any particular food, it’s all about personal responsibility and individual decisions” a McDonald’s spokesperson said in a prepared statement.