The OPC complained that McDonald’s was in breach of the Quick Service Restaurant Initiative for Responsible Advertising and Marketing to Children (QSRI) having directly marketed Happy Meals, including unhealthy Happy Meals, to children via the Happy Studio app.
The app, whose primary character is an animated version of the well-known red Happy Meal box, features the famous golden arches logo. Children can ‘scan with Happy Studio’, encouraging children to buy (or pester their parents for) Happy Meals to unlock extra content. The app also lets its primary audience know, “Hey kids, this is advertising”.
A typical Happy Meal, including a cheeseburger, small fries and a small coke, contains 2548kJ, 6.68g of saturated fat, more than 900mg of sodium and more than 30g of sugar.
The meal exceeds the nutrition criteria established by the QSRI for total kilojoules and sodium, and constitutes 20% more energy than is recommended for 4–8 year olds.
The OPC argued that the app, which uses child focused, simple animation and messaging in its games and activities, represented a direct violation of the code as it was clearly directed primarily to children.
The QSRI states that companies may not advertise their products to children under 14 years in some types of media unless those products represent healthier dietary choices, as determined by the QSRI’s Nutrition Criteria. The Panel found that the app was primarily directed to children and that the product was not a healthier dietary choice.
The Panel found that the themes, visuals and language of the app would appeal to children. It said the Happy Studio app is clearly branded with McDonald’s material and can be considered to be a marketing communication for McDonald’s.
Finding that the advertisement did breach the QSR Initiative, the Panel upheld the complaint.
McDonald’s has stated it will modify the app to comply with the QSRI and will make it available again once this is done.
Read the Ad Standards Panel’s decision on McDonald’s Happy Studio app