Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Socially Responsible vs. Socially Acceptable

McDonald’s.  Just the name will make most of us salivate and chime “bah ta bah bah bah”.  For years now there has been some level of debate over the amount of influence that McDonald’s has over the American diet, especially the younger generations that have never lived in a time pre-big mac.  In her article, “Marketing to Children: Accepting Responsibility”, Gael O’Brien fiercely defends her stance on why marketing campaigns should not be allowed to target children and uses McDonald’s as a case study.  

Their marketing strategy is effective.  If it were not, their success would not be as grand.  Along with that comes some level of corporate social responsibility.  The question now is, are they doing the right thing by advertising to children?  The contributors to this article along with the author say no, “there is no ethical, moral, social, or spiritual justification for targeting children in advertising and marketing”.  I agree whole-heartedly with that statement.  

McDonald’s counters that by saying that it is the responsibility of the parent to choose what their child eats and they have the legal freedom to advertise their products as they see fit.  Again, this is also true.  Parents have to be aware of what they allow to come into their homes as far as television, radio, and internet are concerned.  This cannot be underscored enough, however big corporations should ethically be concerned about its products impact on the consumers, in this case the childhood obesity epidemic.  And if they do truly place all of the liability upon the parent for what is purchased and ultimately consumed, why then do they bother advertising to children at all if it is not their responsibility?  Why not advertise solely to the parent audience?  They see a weakness and are preying on that child’s limited discernment abilities and a parent’s desire to satisfy their child.  

Children are just not mentally equipped to make smart decisions about their health and nutrition.  These are habits they learn as they develop.  The media uses their naivety; as Susan Linn, co-founder of Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, states “they don’t understand persuasive intent until they are eight years old; and the brain’s capacity for judgment isn’t developed until their 20s which makes them very vulnerable as marketing targets”.  With that in mind, there is no true justification for targeting campaigns at children – or any limited capacity group for that matter.  
O’Brien opens by stating that “for all the significant achievements companies are making as corporate citizens, the issue of their real impact on society … raises the question of whether we are adequately defining what is expected by being socially responsible”.  I would like to propose another question, “are we adequately defining what is socially acceptable?”.  Some things do not have to be taken lying down.  


  1. Krystina,

    I thought your approach was great and that you defended your stance very well. I do feel differently that there can in fact be good advertising and marketing targeted to children. While O'Brien states that some children are still unable to make viable judgements until they are 8 years old they are in so many words still functioning in society and making their own judgements. We all had a favorite color, favorite toy and food when we were younger than 8, which we may all argue had no persuasive intent except for we liked those things. In ways my parents could persuade me to like broccoli with incentives, but in no way was I going to eat it.
    I think it is almost impossible for McDonalds to not market to children some way or some how, if they want to serve families, adults are going to come in with their children. The fast food chain can not serve full sized hamburgers to kids so they are going to have to design a menu that appeals to children, because children have special taste buds and likes.
    I grew up eating McDonalds and it was always a fun memory for me, however my parents didn't take me there everyday. I think this reiterates your point that it is parenting that plays a big role in society and what defines us culturally. If my parents had taken me to McDonalds every single day when I was little I would most likely have different memories of McDonalds and maybe even a different lifestyle. The problem that marketing fast food to children causes obesity is that we are taking out a lot of other factors such as bad parenting, psychological factors and coping mechanisms.
    I also agree with you that companies must ensure corporate social responsibility and have consumer's best interests at heart. How they are impacting society is crucial to evaluate with health concerns a top priority. I agree that its important for companies to have their consumers needs always in mind striving to compete for them. If this is not being done or what society is deeming acceptable is not correct I think it our job as consumers to demand and change them.


  2. Hi Krystina,

    I enjoyed reading your perspective on this subject. When writing and contemplating the statement that “there is no ethical, moral, social, or spiritual justification for targeting children” I thought the statement was extreme but failed to find strong arguments for the reverse. The only examples were for advertisments that encouraged positive and healthy actions, which is very product-dependent. Ethics, morals etc are the parent and caretaker’s responsibility, so I understand the position of wanting advertisers to be hands off and allow caretakers to “do their job”. However, in my post I touted those responsibilities as being the reason why I think targeting children is OK. Do marketers need to have ethical, moral, social, or spiritual justifications for targeting children? While it would be nice, I don’t feel it to be a requirement. I think being socially responsible doesn’t have to include censorship.

  3. Hey Krystina,

    I think that you hit the mark with your post. While parents should control the dietary patterns of their children, there is something to be said for corporate social responsibility. I do not think there has been an adequate definition of what is socially acceptable. Therefore, companies will toe the line as best they can to gain as much profit as possible, regardless of the ethical implications. The case of McDonalds is particularly disconcerting because they do target children in their advertising. I agree that children are vulnerable and can fall prey to advertising, especially because they haven’t developed the reasoning skills required to recognize what advertising is all about.

    I feel that companies like McDonalds bolster their image as socially responsible by donating money to charitable organizations or directing resources to their own charities. But this simply isn’t enough, not in a world where the pervasiveness of media has the power to influence children on such a high level. Society has accepted charitable donations as what is acceptable, rather than digging deeper into the behaviors and practices of these corporations. Most corporations do not get the attention that McDonalds has gotten.

    By elevating the dialogue and holding corporations accountable, the level of corporate social responsibility will increase. I also hope that wise parental decision making increases as well.


  4. Krystina, you earned a lot of comments with your post, always a sign of a provocative and effective writer! Do you imagine that the critics of marketing to children believe that if there were no advertising that could be directed to them, childhood obesity would vanish? Do you agree with that?