McDonald's cleared of 'horrifying' marketing to kids

The ad watchdog has dismissed two cases against McDonald's 'Serious Lamb' campaign, despite complaints its use of a nursery rhyme was a "horrifying" attempt to market "extremely unhealthy" food to children.

The multi-platform campaign, which used media personality Sam Kekovich to promote it's August launch, featured a number of ads across television, print and out-of-home for its Serious Lamb Burger and Taster Wrap.

It referenced the children's nursery rhyme 'Mary Had A Little Lamb' in several executions.

An outdoor billboard and television ad for its Taster Wrap and Burger products were accompanied by the respective taglines: "For only $3 you can afford one for the master, one for the dame and one for the little boy who lives down the lane" and  "Mary had a little lamb, fries and a coke".

The Advertising Standards Bureau received several complaints about both the television and outdoor executions, with consumers arguing its use of the nursery rhyme was a direct attempt to market its products to children.

One complaintant said: "Thanks to McDonald's, these positive associations [of the nursery rhyme] have been hijacked by a junk food message. I find this absolutely horrifying - it disgusts me to think that McDonald's could stoop so low. The intent seems to be to advertise to children on the sly."

Another said: "This advertisement [billboard] uses a nursery rhyme to attract children to McDonald’s food. It is clearly visible to children from the car such that parents have no control over their children being exposed to the advertisement."

"It would encourage them to ask for the Serious Lamb Burger even though it is not a typical childrens meal from McDonalds (i.e. a Happy Meal)."

The complaintant also argued the ad was as a breach of the Australian Quick Service Restaurant Industry Initiative's (QSRII) codes, to which McDonald's complies. "If the children's meal criteria of the QSRII was applied to a meal of Lamb Burger Small Fries and Coke, the meal would far exceed the energy and sodium thresholds."

The fast food giant hit back saying its use of satire showed the ads were directed at adults and that it didn't use "caricatures or images associated with the rhyme that would be appealing to children".

The watchdog considered the theme, visuals and language of the campaign and ruled it was "not directed primarily to children", and that the codes therefore didn't apply.

It found McDonald's had not breached the QSRII codes nor the AANA Food and Beverages Code and dismissed both cases.

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