TV's New Battle of the Bulge
February 5, 2007 12:00 AM
It's no coincidence that McDonald's, the nation's largest fast fooder and one of the country's top TV advertisers, recently got a spate of glowing ink just as the Federal Communications Commission announced it would form a task force to examine the role of media and advertising on childhood obesity.
At the time that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, along with now presidential contender Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) made their joint announcement about looking into the media's effect on that very real problem, the Associated Press reported that McDonald's would remove trans fats from its restaurants.
McDonald's was among the last fast fooders to agree (some say reluctantly) to drop trans fats, largely because New York City banned it in all restaurants, effective this July.
Clearly, McDonald's public relations pros have been in overdrive, spreading the pixie dust at large and influential news outlets. For example, BusinessWeek gave McDonald's an early valentine with its glowing cover story on how the company's performance is "sizzling." And it is: 24 quarters of consecutive growth is not shabby.
At about the same time, the Wall Street Journal weighed in with a most positive piece that featured McDonald's director of culinary innovation, Dan Coudreaut, who-get a load of this-trained at the Culinary Institute of America and worked in four-starred outfits like the Four Seasons in Dallas. He's also the creative force behind McDonald's wildly popular-but not necessarily healthy-snack wraps, a factor in the company's strong growth.
That's my prelude to say that I see absolutely no need for the FCC to stick its nose into the issue of childhood obesity. There are bigger issues looming ahead for the regulatory agency that is on the defensive from all sides, facing opponents and proponents on issues including net neutrality, cross-ownership and digital must-carry. It's a plateful of communications issues, all tangled like a pile of spaghetti, that the agency was created to solve in the first place.
Also, let's not forget that there are already other organizations that are working hard (and have been since 2003) on the kid-pudge issue, namely the Ad Council. That New York-based non-profit organization, headed by Peggy Conlon, has already made great strides on this front by finding ways for programmers and advertisers to be a solution rather than the problem. And Ms. Conlon's team remains true to the cause.
The companies, advertisers and programmers are not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. Believe me, a book like Eric Schlosser's riveting and eye-opening "Fast Food Nation," which had McDonald's in its crosshairs, is a far more powerful force than anything this particular FCC can ever concoct.
It's time to give programmers and TV advertisers some credit here about being sensitive-and if not proactive at least reactive-in recognizing the roles they play in influencing children's consumption habits. I think they get the message. Just last week, the Ad Council, partnered with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced a new campaign that would feature Shrek as a spokesman for healthy living.
McDonald's two years ago forged a promotional deal with DreamWorks Animation, which is releasing "Shrek 3" this spring. In several published reports, McDonald's has said the company would use Shrek to tout its healthier menu items like Apple Dippers (whatever they are; I don't know or care). I just like what I'm seeing from programmers and advertisers, trying to do the right thing when obviously parents cannot or will not in terms of feeding their own kids.
What I don't like is that this particular FCC under Chairman Martin seems to be partial to the lobbying interests of telephone companies seeking entry into the video space. Fortunately, he is under scrutiny of the new Democratic Congress.
And, what I don't like one bit is that McDonald's French fries will never taste the same, being cooked in canola oil instead of trans fats. But like many kids who have parents who don't lay down the law on healthy living, I, too, live with an enabler: My husband, who loves those fries as well.