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As advocates for deep change know, big success is often preceded by small incremental changes that may go unnoticed by the general public. It seems the effort to stop fast food companies from hawking toys to kids is gaining ground.

I was watching Friday Night Lights recently (a great show if I don’t fret about the product placement) and blithely forwarding through the commercials when an ad for McDonald’s Happy Meals stopped me cold. There were no toys. Intrigued, I rewound and watched in real time:

We see a multi-racial bunch of totally cute kids with Happy Meal boxes—but they’re empty. A child’s voice chirps, “There’s something inside a McDonald’s Happy Meal. It’s called hope….” The kids keep looking for hope in the boxes, but—it’s invisible! Then there’s the tag line, “Happy Meals, the simple joy of helping.”

Turns out five cents of every Happy Meal purchase goes to Ronald McDonald House Charities. According to the fast food giant, there’s a moral imperative to feed your children junk food.

Over the past year, advocates have brought increasing pressure on McDonald’s to stop marketing to children. Corporate Accountability International’s Retire Ronald campaign is gaining traction. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is suing McDonald’s for using toys to sell Happy Meals to children. And San Francisco now requires that restaurant food sold with toys meet basic nutritional standards.

To distract adults from the toy giveaways, McDonald’s is now working hard to convince parents that children can, and should, do good by eating bad. Meanwhile the company is running the same old Happy Meal ads during kids’ shows. No hope there, just toys, toys, and more toys.

These days there is something you can’t see inside a McDonald’s Happy Meal. It’s called fear.

I’m lovin’ it.


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