From Ronald McDonald to Tony the Tiger to Fred Flinstone, cartoon characters have been iconic mainstays in marketing directed at children for decades. But as big-company advertising budgets have bloated to millions of dollars per year, parents are faced with mounting difficulties when swaying their child's food choices. Rather, kid-friendly “spokescharacters” are often the deciding factor when buying groceries.

In recent months there has been backlash against marketing to children, crusaded largely by notable food theorist and professor, Marion Nestle, PhD. “Marketing to children is unethical,” Nestle told Organic Connections. “Children cannot be expected to understand its significance or how to deal with it. It makes kids think that advertised foods are what they are supposed to be eating, and that they know more than their parents do about it. It is morally and ethically wrong and should be stopped.”

Due to its role as an industry leader, McDonalds has been a main target of campaigns such as Corporate Accountability International’s Value [the] Meal (CAI). While the ubiquitous chain is being scrutinized in it’s entirety, special attention is aimed at the Happy Meal—despite its recent upgrade to slightly healthier standards. “We have often seen in corporate campaigning that when you work on the industry leader, you move the whole industry,” explains CAI director Sara Deon. “McDonald’s created and developed these predatory marketing techniques, and other fast-food and larger corporations have emulated them.”

Read more about CAI’s Value [the] Meal Campaign in Organic Connections.