Following links in blogs is so fun. It takes me places I never would have gone otherwise. A couple of weeks ago I ran across a website dedicated to pressuring McDonalds into "retiring" Ronald McDonald. Evidently today's parents are powerless to stop their young children - non-driving, penniless children - from acquiring fat-, sugar-, and plastic-laden Happy Meals. So the idea is to make McDonalds get rid of the clown who advertises for them. Because, see, the kids see the clown and they want what the clown is selling. And the clown apparently holds the parents in thrall so they drive to McDonalds and buy the meals against their wills.
I find the whole thing mystifying.
My kids enjoy going to McDonald's occasionally. When they were younger they liked the Happy Meals and the dumb little toys for a while. The play places could be fun. I don't remember if they wanted to go because of Ronald; probably not as they share my distaste for clowns. As they've gotten older, it's become a place to go if we need something right now and there isn't anything else available. Like last week, when we were all working at our church Vacation Bible School. It was over at noon; the kids were hungry. I gave them a few bucks and let them walk down the street with their friends and get some food. Not great food, not healthful food, but food.
We probably didn't go as often as they would have liked when they were younger. But if my kids ever asked to go, and I didn't want to go or think we should go, I did something that is apparently revolutionary: I said no.
Yeah, that was it. It wasn't that hard. And it worked pretty well because they couldn't get there themselves. And if they got angry or cried or complained, it just meant an even longer wait before we would go again. They learned that pretty quickly. Kids are smart that way.
Another apparently revolutionary thing we did was talk to our kids about advertising when they were young. Advertising is designed to create a need that no one knew existed before seeing the ad. Right? Of course it's also useful in bringing products and services to our attention. That's how I use it. I look over the grocery store ads every week to help me determine where I'll shop for food. If a store advertises sirloin steak for $2.99 a pound, I know where I'll be going. If a Payless ad shows up in my mailbox, I'll look it over to see if there are any shoes I need or will be needing soon. The ad doesn't make me say "Hey, I need a pair of those cool gladiator sandals! I'm off to Payless right now!" That is, unless I really did need gladiator sandals, though for what purpose I cannot possibly imagine.
I knew I was going to inoculate my kids against advertising before I even had kids. Back in the dark ages of the internet, I used to read newsgroups. And on some newsgroup related to kids and families, I read a post that has stuck with me these 15 years (at least). A mother complained about the advertisements for Jif peanut butter - "choosy mothers choose Jif" - remember that? And she said, "I don't like those ads. They make me feel like a bad mother if I don't buy Jif." That was a parent admitting that her self-esteem was damaged by an advertisement.
So when our kids were little we started talking about advertising to them, about the messages ads send: You're not wonderful enough. This product will make you wonderful. We didn't watch a lot of TV so they didn't have a lot of exposure to commercials, but they saw some. Print ads would come and we'd go over them, talking about the symbols and the way ads make them feel. Of course now they are exposed to ads on the internet. Some are funny and we watch them for entertainment; they don't make us want to go buy the thing advertised.
We didn't buy licensed products for our kids, or clothing with logos: why do people pay for the privilege of advertising someone else's stuff? One of my happiest moments as a mother came when my daughter and I stood in front of a play ball display at a store. She wanted a new ball. There were plain ones for $1.99, and balls with pictures of licensed characters (Disney, I believe) for $3.99. She chose a plain ball and asked me why people would spend more money for a ball with an ugly picture on it. We didn't get into the toy frenzy that happens every Christmas. They never had the "hot toy" of the year. Those toys never seemed to be particularly fun or useful anyway.
So, I don't really care about Ronald McDonald and his effect on kids. I do care that parents have become so weak that they'd rather force a company to give up a successful mascot than just tell their kids they can't have a Happy Meal today. It almost makes me want to go to McDonalds and give him a hug. This must be hurting his self-esteem.