Sydney Morning Herald, The (Australia) - September 1, 2011
Author/Byline: ROWAN DEAN, Rowan Dean is a freelance writer and advertising creative director.
Section: News and Features
I have a confession to make. Not only did I write cigarette ads, but I also used to make TV commercials for KFC. By the bucketload. In fact, when it comes to egging on the obesity epidemic, some would say my CV is second to none.
So, it was with some sadness that I read last week that KFC have decided to stop giving out free toys with their kiddies' meals. ("There goes the nutritious bit," quipped a friend.) The reason for the decision, explained the earnest-sounding corporate affairs manager, Zac
Rich, was that the idea of free toys had "had its day" and "belonged to another era".
Rich went on to explain that KFC were "doing the right thing" and hoped "this will support parents in making dietary decisions on behalf of their children which aren't influenced ... by pressure to choose the meal that has a toy". He also pointed out that KFC are "a founding member of the Australian Quick Service Industry Initiative for Responsible Advertising to Children". Hmmm.
The entire announcement sounded uncannily familiar, and then I realised it reminded me of the phoney concern we heard recently from the tobacco industry, saying they were desperately worried about sales of smokes going up. And of the faux sincerity of the alcohol industry's self-regulatory body DrinkWise, which announced in May it had decided to slap health warnings onto bottles of booze.
(DrinkWise's aim is "to influence a cultural shift in the way Australians drink, so that the next generation of drinkers may view intoxication as unhealthy and socially unacceptable". Really? Good luck.)
For years, irate nutritionists and health activists have criticised free toys and the "pester power" they supposedly invoke as one of the great evils of the advertising industry. Get rid of the toys, ran the argument, and kids would no longer drive their parents insane demanding to go to KFC or Maccas. Wishful thinking, I'm afraid.
Rich was only telling us half the truth when he said KFC were "pleased to be taking the lead in removing [the toys]". In Australia, yes. But
KFC and other fast-food chains in the US got rid of them nearly a decade ago, and - surprise, surprise - it made not a jot of difference to their bottom line or, indeed, to America's waistline.
Moreover, the toys themselves were always regarded as a pain in the bum from a marketer's point of view. Not only were they an added expense on the production line, cumbersome to stock in store, and a problem when they ran out and little Jessica was left standing at the counter bawling, but there has also been the ever-present health and safety risk that a child would inadvertently put an eight-legged wiggly purple monster in his mouth and choke on the damned thing. KFC franchisees will not shed a tear to see the toys disappear.
But the reason for my disappointment is that this is yet another tokenistic and almost certainly futile effort to stave off more government interference in the marketing of legal