Promotional Toys are Evil! …Wait, What?

Want to know about a little trend that’ll never go out of style? Vilifying huge corporations!

“The economy is terrible because of big, scary companies!”

“We need to protect our children from evil propaganda put out by the manipulative media!”

“No one looks out for the little guy!”

Hit the pause button on your latest viewing of Wall-E, and just listen. This side of science fiction, there’s no way a company can force a consumer to buy a product. But it seems that people have no problem portraying huge companies as gigantic jerkweeds who do nothing more than prey on the masses with deceptive campaigns and then cackle as they blow their noses in $100 bills.

Recently, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed a lawsuit against McDonald’s for putting toys in Happy Meals.

Read that last sentence again. I could not make this up if I tried.

Now, I’m not defending huge corporations as a strict rule. There are endless examples of corruption and shady business deals that have been swept under the rug and then later brought to light. And companies with more money certainly can be more successful at those kinds of things, given their resources.

But let’s not get carried away.

This is my favorite little piece of crazy from the article:

“McDonald’s is the stranger in the playground handing out candy to children,” said CSPI litigation director Stephen Gardner. “McDonald’s use of toys undercuts parental authority and exploits young children’s developmental immaturity. It’s a creepy and predatory practice that warrants an injunction.”

Really, Mr. Gardner? You’re equating a restaurant chain that gives toys to little kids with PEDOPHILES? Toss in a reference to Nazi Germany, and you have a real shot against the Tea Partiers at the Scare Tactic Olympics. This is disgusting and should offend anyone who has either suffered or watched someone they loved suffer from ACTUAL crimes involving children.


Oh, no! The colors are appealing! EVIL MARKETING!!

Let’s talk about undercutting parental “authority,” shall we? First of all, I see shockingly little parental authority these days. Parental authority is more than just bitching about things that are hurting your little ones or providing a source for temper tantrums. It’s establishing a set of rules and staying consistent. Saying no to fast food unless Mommy’s really tired and doesn’t feel like cooking is NOT consistency. Caving in so a toddler won’t throw a hissy fit in the middle of the toy store is NOT consistency. Here’s a link to the definition in the dictionary in case you need to pass it on to someone who’s having a little trouble.

You don’t want your kids to eat McDonald’s? You probably shouldn’t drive over there and buy it for them. Don’t mistake a company’s intelligent decision to include a promotional product that appeals to its target audience with a “creepy and predatory practice.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that kids should have McDonald’s for three squares a day. I’m not even saying it’s not low quality food that’s tastes terrible and will likely contribute to an early death if you consume it in large quantities. No one here is holding up McDonald’s as a nutritional standard. But parents are the consumers here, not the children. They’re the ones who ought to have the developmental maturity to make a decision about where their kids eat, not to mention the money, driver’s license and car keys to get over there. And if they’re giving their kids money, they’re handing off the decision making.

Parents are pissed, because the marketing is effective. Kids like toys. Kids like crappy food. Put them together? You couldn’t make Happy Meals more desired if you put Miley Cyrus’s face on the bun. Parenting is unbelievably hard work, and I admire each and every parent that actually puts in the time, effort, and heart to provide the best lives for their kids. However, sometimes that means saying no to someone you love and bearing the brunt of “I hate you” and insolent glares. Go ahead and send them to their rooms if they defy your authority. But don’t blame marketers for doing their jobs.

But you know what? Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Mr. Gardner has a point. Maybe airliners need to stop giving away peanuts. After all, they’re luring in unsuspecting nut lovers with promises of salt-covered joy and then put them in high pressured metal tubes and flinging them across the country at breakneck speeds. Why stop there? We need the advertising world to stop using hot girls in bikinis to sell beer, chicken wings, body spray, hair products, and… well, pretty much everything else. Let’s see what Mr. Gardner and his Maxim subscription think of that.

What do you think, dear readers? Does the inclusion of promotional toys into fast food meals cross the line? Are marketers deliberately manipulating children with the intention of undercutting parental authority? If they are, does it matter? Is that illegal? Does corporations have a social responsibility to produce only certain products for public consumption? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time, keep expanding your brand!


(Picture above the heading is from

Jana Quinn

An old ‘G’ that’s been working for QLP since it was in Bret’s basement – Jana has been writing since she made up a story about a Jana-Tiger that liked rocky road ice cream and got straight A’s. She enjoys writing about marketing and pop culture, posting a ‘Die Hard’ article as often as she’s allowed. She is inspired by the articles at Cracked and frequently wears a Snuggie in the office. You can also connect with Jana on Google+.


  1. mary

    You are so right!! Stay up there on that soap box and keep yelling. Someone else has to get it! People get with it. Who’s making decisions in the parent-child relationship?

  2. Tammi Kibler

    I think this is a nonsense lawsuit. McDonald’s didn’t become an issue in my family until the kids were old enough (and had enough of their own income) to choose to go to McDonald’s for dinner rather than eat what I cooked. By then my kids were long beyond Happy Meal toys.


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