The Center for Science in the Public Interest has sent McDonald’s a letter threatening to sue them if it does not stop handing out toys and marketing to children with its Happy Meals. To McDonald’s, this is a direct frontal assault of its brand which I have no doubt it will vigorously defend.

Suing McDonald'sMcDonald’s brand  is about fun. It’s about being a child. It is youthful and vibrant. Telling McDonald’s it can no longer market to kids and give away toys is akin to telling Porsche to stop making fast cars. It is what McDonald’s does.

Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., Executive Director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest says, “CSPI contends that tempting kids with toys is unfair and deceptive–both to kids who don’t understand the concept of marketing and to parents who have to put up with their pestering offspring.”

Suing McDonald’s

So the ads and toy giveaways are “unfair to parents who have to put up with their pestering offspring”? I guess next they will be targeting Walt Disney World, breakfast cereals, and Thomas the Tank Engine.

This suit brought on by CSPI is really more about the failure of CSPI than it is about McDonald’s.

CSPI says it is now working to:

  • Get junk foods out of schools nationwide;
  • Rid the food supply of partially hydrogenated oil, the source of artificial trans fat that promotes heart disease;
  • Reduce sodium in processed and restaurant foods;.
  • Improve food safety laws and reduce the incidence of foodborne illness;
  • Advocate for more healthy, plant-based, environmentally-friendly diets;
  • Ensure accurate and honest labeling on food packages;
  • Require basic nutrition labeling on chain-restaurants’ menus and menu boards;
  • Provide responsible information about the benefits and risks of agricultural biotechnology;
  • Obtain greater federal funding for alcohol-abuse prevention policies; and
  • Expose industry influence over the scientific process and in government policy-making.

All of these things I agree with. I think more work needs to be done on all of these fronts to help consumers make better choices. But not one of these items cover, “telling parents how to parent.” The failure here is in CSPI and its own inability to stick to their brand. With this action and, especially, the statement that followed, it has gone from the role of adviser to that of a dictator.

Though I doubt CSPI would look at it this way, as I doubt it looks at what it does from a branding perspective. But what CSPI has done is diverged from its brand even as loosely defined as it is. As far as I can tell, its brand is about information and awareness, and giving people the information and resources they need to make better healthy choices. It is not about being an advocate for parents who “…have to put up with their pestering offspring.”

What is at the center of this is that most organizations, associations, and charitable groups do not define themselves from a branding perspective. I would argue that the reason they do not do this is because it would necessitate them to be focused and not allow them to diverge too far out of their stated set of brand promises.  However, the focus from having a well-defined brand is exactly what can ensure long-term success of that organization. It only takes once for an organization to stray too far from its core purpose to become irrelevant. Once that happens, funding dries up and the organization dies.

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