McDonald’s Now Using Goats to Exploit Children

by Michele Simon and Kelle Louaillier

To call McDonald’s latest advertising campaign aimed at children cynical doesn’t give enough credit to the fast food giant and its ad agency, Leo Burnett. The company says the new series of ads starting this month is part of McDonald’s “nutrition commitment to promote nutrition and/or active lifestyle messages in 100 percent of its national communications to kids.”

How will the purveyor of Big Macs, fries and Coke accomplish this lofty goal? Perhaps by explaining that McDonald’s is an occasional treat? Or that sharing home-cooked meals is one of the best ways for families to ensure good eating habits? Perhaps McDonald’s could educate kids about the federal MyPlate recommendations to make half your meal fruits and vegetables?

Not even close. McDonald’s idea of nutrition education is simple: just eat at McDonald’s.

In the first animated ad, a child’s pet goat is derided for eating everything in sight, from the kid’s baseball to his father’s hair. The solution? The goat needs a “better diet,” defined by fruit and dairy the ad says—but where to find such strange items? Jump in the car and head to McDonald’s, where the goat becomes “strong as an ox” from downing the apple slices and chocolate milk contained in Happy Meals. The ad ends with the goat chomping on the Happy Meals box. (Apparently, the goat does not eat the child’s toy.)

Problem solved.

The message sent to children? Everything at home is bad to eat. The place to find healthy food is at McDonald’s. In a matter of seconds, McDonald’s manages to circumscribe the entire universe of healthy foods to the two items found in a Happy Meal, all under the guise of “nutrition education.” You can’t get much more twisted than that.

For McDonald’s “balanced eating” is accomplished within the confines of the Happy Meal. But apple slices and chocolate milk don’t balance out chicken nuggets and French fries, the other two components of the Happy Meal depicted in the ad. (Moreover, by most nutrition standards apples and chocolate milk are actually treats, not staples of a healthy diet in a way that broccoli is, for example.)

Even if the ad campaign was less self-serving and actually attempted to educate children about healthful eating in a meaningful way, this is not McDonald’s job.

I don’t know any critic of McDonald’s that has been begging the company to “to promote nutrition and/or active lifestyle messages” to children. Quite the opposite: We want McDonald’s to stop targeting children, period. Stop using toys to lure children, stop promoting Ronald McDonald in schools and communities, and stop marketing to children as young as age two online at websites like,, and We want McDonald’s to just get out of the way to let parents do their job to teach children how to eat right.

Notably, in its press release announcing the new campaign, McDonald’s felt compelled to reassure the public: “Ronald McDonald will continue to be an ambassador of happiness and joy for children of all ages in ongoing McDonald’s advertising and local community programs.”

That’s a relief, because I was really worried that goat was taking over.

With this new campaign, McDonald’s is making a desperate attempt to silence its critics by appearing to care about children’s health. But what the fast food giant has actually accomplished is yet one more way to exploit children’s emotional vulnerabilities through the use of animals and cartoons.

And parents, your job to help your kids eat right just got even harder.

Please sign this letter urging McDonald’s CEO Jim Skinner to stop marketing children.

Michele Simon is a public health attorney and consultant with Corporate Accountability International. Kelle Louaillier is executive director of Corporate Accountability International

9 Responses to “McDonald’s Now Using Goats to Exploit Children”

  1. [...] Appetite for Profit Posted on March 27, 2012 by Michele by Michele Simon and [...]

  2. [...] to Civil Eats, I just read this great post from author Michele Simon at her blog, Appetite for [...]

  3. [...] This article by Michele Simon and Kelle Louaillier is re-posted from Appetite for Profit. [...]

  4. Gregory says:

    First of all it’s a goat. I think that parents should educate themselves on what is “ACTUALLY” nutritious for their children and make informed decisions based on that research. Using McDonald’s as a scapegoat (pun intended) for kids poor eating habits is quite ridiculous. We blame video games for the lack of exercise our children get also, so it must be the video game industries fault for having the kids sit in front of their televisions or computers for hours on end. Parents need to educate themselves and in turn educate their children ; if they aren’t doing that than they are failing their kids not McDonald’s. I believe it is human nature to blame our pitfalls on everyone but ourselves. When do we finally hold ourselves accountable as parents when making choices for our children? When do we educate ourselves before making decisions that affect our children’s health? We have gotten to a point where complaining is so much easier than actually finding a solution.


    • Janet Camp says:

      Do you think that McDonald’s spends millions of dollars every year in the faint hope that some unsupervised child somewhere in America will see a commercial and start asking his mother for apple slices and (perish the thought) chocolate milk?

      I agree that parents need to be responsible for their children, but I really must ask if you are a parent? We did not have TV in our house (horrors!) or eat at McDonald’s, yet they knew about it and went there with friends and on their own when they got older. We accepted that to a point, but what I’m trying to tell you is that no one lives in a vacuum and McDonald’s advertises to children because it works–by that I mean that children take their cues from the advertising, not their parents. Research has shown that even pre-verbal children recognize major company logos. Are we to blindfold our children when they ride in the car? No wait, lets be sure we have one of those video players so they can watch plenty of cartoon character oriented, thinly-veiled, product promotion.

      Another factor is that a parents who are aged 20 to 30 have now themselves grown up in this environment and take much of this for granted. They themselves grew up eating this junk and have been propagandized by ads to think that eating at McDonald’s, et al, is the American thing to do. It’s the new normal. A huge percentage of women work outside the home now and they have been equally programmed to take advantage of every “convenience” the industry can devise to assure them (and fathers too) that the last thing they have to do is come home and…prepare real food for their families. Never mind that it takes about ten minutes to make a stir fry with vegetables such as broccoli, carrots and peppers; no, just wait in line for the same time at the drive-thru and get chicken nuggets. This has become a way of life for younger people and it won’t change unless we limit the sheer volume of messages that saturate every aspect of a child’s environment.

      I took my youngest child out of three different daycares in the 90’s because even though they assured me there was no TV, I would find him watching cartoons (and commercials) when I picked him up. The excuse was that it was just at the end of the day while they were waiting for everyone to be picked up. How does a parent maintain standards when this goes on everywhere you turn. Almost every doctor’s office and hospital waiting room has a TV, including places where children are present; in fact, my allergy clinic recently installed one specifically at the request of parents!

      This responsibility you refer to needs to start with re-educating an entire generation of young parents to start with.

    • Brand says:

      I absolutely agree with you, Gregory. It’s not McDonalds fault that parents are allowing their children to eat this food. Even if the commercial causes a child to ask his parent(s) for McDonalds, the parent ultimately has the right/responsibility to say “no”. And if the parent hasn’t instilled good eating habits by the time the child is old enough to drive themselves to McDonalds, then that parent has failed miserably at their job.

  5. Shawn says:

    Sounds like the bigger problem is you the parent, don’t blame Big business if you don’t have the backbone or the will power to tell your children No we are not going to McDonalds. I have children who love McDonlads and as much as right now they would like to go everyday, they know we are not going to take them. McDonalds is a company and as a company they are looking for the best way to make money. If there advertising causing You to take ‘Your’ children to McDonalds, well then they succeeded. You children do not drive themselves and it is Your job to teach them to eat properly and that McDonalds and any other fast food is a treat that is occassionally eaten so when they can drive themselves they don’t choose to go. If you want to be angry be angry about expoliting low wage countries to make their toys. But don’t be angry because you as the parent took the easy way out to feed your children.

    One of the NONE

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