McDonald's manipulates us

Your [July 22] back-page editorial on Morgan Spurlock's McDonald's-bashing documentary Super Size Me misses the point. It's not just that McDonald's sells unhealthy food, but rather that McDonald's is a cultural force, responsible for manipulating Americans' dietary habits for decades.

I, regrettably, worked in Madison Avenue advertising for seven years, for Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Taco Bell (the chihuahua saying "Here leezard, leezard"­ that was me). I know McDonald's methods well.

The #1 jingle of all time is McDonalds' "You deserve a break today." They also lay claim to the #5 ad campaign of all time. The #2 advertising icon is Ronald McDonald, who Ad Age magazine describes as a "fast-food ambassador for kids." Ronald McDonald's face is recognized by 96 percent of American children, second only to Santa Claus. Why is that so important?

McDonald's own Operations and Training Manual says, "Children exert a phenomenal influence when it comes to restaurant selection. This means that you should do everything you can to appeal to children's love for Ronald and McDonald's."

A 1992 survey by Brand Audit Research reported that: "McDonald's is more likely to be chosen than its competitors in response to kids' pestering." 55 percent of parents surveyed gave "kids pester me to go" as a reason for going to McDonald's.

McDonald's spends nearly $2 billion a year on advertising. Statistically, half of all McDonald's advertising is aimed at children. But it's not just the clown. It's also the playgrounds, the birthday parties, and the toys. McDonald's distributes more toys per year than Toys-R-Us.

Parents fall into the trap, too. Dr. Tessa Van der Merwe, a World Health Organization endocrinologist, objects to McDonald's use of the term "meal" in phrases like "Happy Meal." Her advice to moms: "A meal does not consist of a load of carbohydrates, low-quality proteins, and a high fat content." Nevertheless, French fries are the most eaten vegetable in America.

Actor Geoffrey Giuliano, who played Ronald McDonald in the 1980s, equates McDonald's youth advertising to brainwashing and Nazi propaganda: "If they can keep you one step away from the truth and keep you stupid, you'll keep coming back." Anyone who thinks McDonald's is a benign force in the cultural marketplace is either in on the game or has been watching too much TV.

Brian Wimer