BBB National Programs Archive

CARU Recommends McDonald’s Modify, Discontinue “SpongeBob” Spot

New York, NY – Jan. 3,  2013 – The Children’s Advertising Review Unit has recommended that McDonald’s Corporation discontinuing advertising for its Happy Meal product that emphasizes the toy available with each meal, rather than the meal itself.

CARU is an investigative unit of the advertising industry system of self-regulation and is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

CARU’s guidelines require that when advertising contains a premium message, it should focus the child’s attention primarily on the product. The premium message should be made secondary.

In this case, CARU determined that a 30-second television commercial for a McDonald’s Happy Meal that included SpongeBob SquarePants toys – 16 toys in all – did not adequately distinguish between the product and the premium. In making its determination, CARU considered that the focus of the commercial was on SpongeBob SquarePants, the central character in a long running children’s television show. CARU noted in its decision that the show’s theme played through the commercial and clips from the show were woven into the advertisement.

By contrast, the food sold in a Happy Meal appeared briefly and was mentioned only once during the commercial.

CARU determined that the commercial in its entirety, including the audio and visual components, focused children’s attention primarily on the SpongeBob SquarePants premium and only secondarily on the product. CARU recommended the advertiser modify or discontinue the spot.

McDonald’s, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company values the self-regulatory process and will take CARU’s comments into consideration in future ads.