Hamburger soda and french friesIn 2010, the Center for Science in the Public Interest ("CSPI") on behalf of mother Monet Parham filed a class action lawsuit against McDonalds that argued the fast food giant violated various consumer protection laws with its Happy Meals advertising.  Specifically, the complaint focused on the way McDonalds used toys to induce children into wanting the product. The complaint stated "Children eight and younger do not have the cognitive skills and the developmental maturity to understand the persuasive intent of marketing and advertising." Today, that lawsuit was dismissed by a Superior Court Judge.

Why Was This Lawsuit Ever Filed?

The motive behind this lawsuit was arguably virtuous. Concerned citizens were weary of a large corporate marketing campaign that was able to specifically target young children. Under the law, we already provide special protections that are meant to shield children from harm. Children can't buy liquor, can't see cigarette ads on television, can't drive, etc. Many public schools outright ban advertising of any kind as to not unduly influence children, and some schools have gone so far as to exclude vending machines from their grounds altogether. Therefore, it makes sense that in a home environment certain additional restrictions may be needed in order to completely protect children where they are most vulnerable.

Why Did the Lawsuit Fail?

This lawsuit ultimately failed because McDonalds did nothing legally wrong. Consumer protection laws are meant to protect us from, among other things, fraudulent or misleading advertising. The advertising for McDonalds displayed exactly the type of food and toys a child could expect after purchasing the product. Simply because some believe the food to be unhealthy does not make it unlawful to advertise. Imagine if CSPI was successful in getting Happy Meal advertising banned. What would be next? Perhaps banning video game advertising because it encourages anti-social behavior, or ads for bicycles because they can lead to serious injuries?

What do you think? Should advertising to children be limited in order to protect their interests? Or should advertisers have free reign to portray their products accurately?