At the McDonald’s 2014 Annual Shareholders Meeting, CEO Don Thompson was questioned by Sally Kuzemchak, a concerned nutritionist and parent, about the company’s notorious targeting of children. Thompson tried to reassure Kuzemchak. “Relative to our marketing, we have been marketing responsibly,” he told her. And then he dropped a bombshell, “We don’t put Ronald out in schools.”
It was a remarkable statement from the CEO of the world’s biggest purveyor of fast food. Not only was Thompson acknowledging that “marketing responsibly” includes respecting schools as commercial-free zones, but he was boldly proclaiming his company doesn’t engage in this exploitative practice.
There is only one thing wrong with what Thompson said: It isn’t true. Regional McDonald’s websites actively promote Ronald McDonald’s availability for schools . Under the guise of promoting everything from reading to healthy lifestyles, Ronald regularly appears at preschools and elementary schools across the United States, and in China, Australia, and The Netherlands . In Brazil, Ronald’s regular incursions into schools led the Instituto Alana to file a complaint against McDonald’s with the Ministries of Justice and Education .
Families should be able to send children to school without worrying about subjecting them to the world’s most infamous corporate mascot. Any type of marketing in schools exploits a captive audience, but it is particularly insidious to send Ronald McDonald into classrooms while schools are tasked with instilling healthier eating habits in children.
CCFC is leading an international effort to keep Ronald McDonald out of schools for good. Earlier this summer, CCFC sent a letter—signed by a coalition of 48 public health, education, and children’s organizations from around the world—to Thompson urging him to stand by his words to his shareholders . But he needs to hear from you, too.
P.S. A McDonald’s spokeswoman emailed us to claim, “Mr. Thompson was correct in stating that ‘we don’t put Ronald out in schools.’ Obviously, only schools or affiliated groups manage their invited guests.” But no one ever claimed that Ronald was forcing his way into schools without the knowledge of administrators. Please let McDonald’s know that corporate double-speak is no substitute for doing the right thing.