BK Kids Meals – Minneapolis’ Campbell Mithun’s Junk Food Client

BK Kids Meal

I don’t have kids or eat many kids meals at junk food restaurants, so I’m not particularly familiar with what places like Burger King have been peddling as food to children lately. But I recently became aware of what “kids meals” looks like these days after finding out that our fellow Minnesotans are responsible for marketing Burger King’s BK Kids Menu crap to children.

Some local folks at the downtown Minneapolis ad agency, Campbell Mithun, helped put together a recent Burger King campaign with cartoon TV ads for placement between kids shows on Nickelodeon, Disney XD, and Cartoon Network:

“We were challenged to create an effective way to reach kids that would stand out in the crowded world of kids advertising. We knew that we wanted to take a fun, relatable approach because of our key insight that associates mealtime with playtime. Advertising through animation became an obvious choice because, these days, with advanced levels of style and the quick response time animation provides, it seemed like a no-brainer,” says Ben Fruehauf, VP, creative director with Campbell Mithun.

I suppose it makes sense to stick with cartoons as ads. That may help confuse kids, who already have a hard time telling the difference between ads and television shows.

The press release about this campaign on the MN PR Blog points out that this campaign meets the advertising industry’s self-set standards for marketing food to kids:

All of the spots in the campaign highlight BK® Kids Meals, which meet the nutritional guidelines of the Council of Better Business Bureaus’ Food & Advertising Initiative (CBBB).

That comment fails to mention that the “nutritional guidelines” are self-imposed guidelines regarding what businesses will advertise to children, but not necessarily what they’ll sell to children. Here are the Core Principals of this advertising initiative:

Companies participating in this initiative will publicly commit to advertising that will further the goal of promoting healthy dietary choices and healthy lifestyles to children under 12. These commitments will be set forth in an individual “Pledge” for each participant. Because companies and their product lines vary, company commitments also will vary.

There is not a lot of teeth in that statement. Perhaps they lost them to junk food?

Here is a nugget from Burger King’s latest pledge:

Nutrition Criteria
Burger King Corp.’s stringent nutrition criteria for Kids Meals (consisting of an entree, side dish and beverage) is defined as:
– No more than 560 calories per meal;
– Less than 30 percent of calories from fat;
– Less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat;
– No added trans fats;
– No more than 10 percent of calories from added sugars;
– No more than 600 milligrams of sodium; and
– A “good source” or “excellent source” of at least two of the following nutrients: calcium, fiber, potassium, magnesium, vitamin E.

Looking back at the food included in the ad at the top of this post, you can see an example of this. Burger King includes a less than 560 calorie meal of two mini-burgers, apple juice, and apple fries in the ad placed at kid’s height in the entrance to their Hiawatha Ave & 46th St E location in Minneapolis.

This does sound like a decent pledge. However, keep in mind that this is what Burger King is pledging to advertise to kids under the age of 12, which appears to have little to do with what Burger King is willing to offer to kids under the age of 12 on their BK Kids Menu.

Here is what Burger King lists as their BK Kids Menu on their website.

BK Kids Menu

BK Kids Menu

Yes, one of the items is a double cheeseburger. Here is what mine looked like:

BK Kids Meal

Has any parent at home ever served their “kids menu” aged child a double cheeseburger at home? Why is that on the BK Kids Menu?

Now, Campbell Mithun isn’t pimping double cheeseburgers to kids . . . directly. That would not be Minnesota nice or live up to BK’s pledge. Instead, they choose to promote a “better-for-you” item from the menu in the campaign: Apple Fries. This allows Campbell Mithun and Burger King to abide by self-imposed healthy food advertising guidelines.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Apple Fries, Burger King takes real apples, removes the skin, slices them into french fry shapes, soaks them in preservatives, puts them in plastic bags, then ships them to their restaurants around the world along with an accompanying package of caramel flavored high fructose corn syrup. They then advertise this as a “better for you” options on their kids menu.

BK Kids Meal

Rather than push double cheeseburgers, Campbell Mithun has created ads for these “better for you” apple fries with corn syrup to get kids in the door. Here are the apple fries, after dumping them into the fry sleeve they’re served with:

BK Kids Meal

The Stop Being So Fat blog compared the apple fries Campbell Mithun is promoting to a real apple and found that Burger King is selling around one half of an apple for $1.50. The highly preserved slices take around 2 days to start turning brown. That’s a lot of preservatives. Yes, they are kind of florescent in person.

The Apple Fries are 70 calories per serving. 25 of those calories come from the apples. The other 45 from the corn syrup caramel.

As I see it, Burger King and Campbell Mithun have found a way to market to kids by using highly processed apple slices as a gateway food. It allows them to market to kids with a somewhat clean conscience. Once in the door, kids or their parents may choose to get the apple fries, or go with regular french fries. Take another look at the BK Kids Menu above. Notice any deep fried potatoes on there? Nope. But they are indeed an option on the BK Kids Menus at their restaurants.

Burger King also offers “better for you” fat free milk on their kids menu . . .

BK Kids Meal

. . . with a Hershey’s chocolate logo on the front. They offer chocolate milk from Hersey’s as well. Both are better options than soda, but it’s a shame that they put a candy bar logo on the bottle.

While a parent could be pestered into a trip to Burger King by their child based on the lure of cartoons about highly preserved apple fries, it’s quite possible that the meal that ends up in front of that child could look like this:

BK Kids Meal Option

With the following calorie breakdown:

BK Kids Meal Option

Which is nearly double the calories of the BK Kids Menu meals Burger King and Campbell Mithun choose to advertise.

To me, this is a case of talking the talk without walking the walk. If Burger King was serious about offering healthy food choices to children, they wouldn’t offer meal combinations that account for 2/3rd of a child’s daily needs.

Here are a few scenarios from the BK Kids menu:

1. It’s impossible to build a less than 560 calorie kids meal (Burger King’s kid-friendly pledge) if it has the double cheeseburger in it. Even with skim milk and the apple fries, it hits 630.

2. It’s impossible to build a less than 560 calorie kids meal if it includes small french fries. Small fries have 440 calories.

3. Starting with a small soda (non-diet) and the apple fries, only the Mac & Cheese, Hamburger, Cheeseburger, and 4-Piece Chicken Crowns make the 560 calorie cutoff.

Put another way, the majority of the meal combinations one could construct on the BK Kids menu don’t live up to Burger King’s own pledge. Of course, the pledge reflects what food combinations they’ll advertise but not what they’re willing to serve.

Burger King breaks down the meal combinations they say are kid friendly here. Reading the materials there (pdf), it looks like Burger King is stating that there are only 4 meal combinations on their menu that they’ll advertise to children.

Mac & Cheese Kids Meal
– KRAFT® Macaroni & Cheese
– BKTM Fresh Apple Fries, Low-Fat Caramel Dipping Sauce
– HERSHEY’S® Fat-Free White Milk

Hamburger Kids Meal
– Hamburger
– BKTM Fresh Apple Fries, Low-Fat Caramel Dipping Sauce
– Calcium-fortified MINUTE MAID® Apple Juice

– BKTM Fresh Apple Fries, Low-Fat Caramel Dipping Sauce
– Calcium-fortified MINUTE MAID® Apple Juice

– BKTM Fresh Apple Fries, Low-Fat Caramel Dipping Sauce
– HERSHEY’S® Fat-Free White Milk

Is this a real effort to use their substantial power to improve the eating habits of children, or is this a bait and switch based on advertising one thing while serving something entirely different to children?

As far as I can tell, Burger King isn’t reporting what impact advertising apple fries has had on what people actually buy. Because of this, I get the impression that BK is playing advertising games with the help of Campbell Mithun rather than attempting to do something meaningful about child obesity.

10 thoughts on “BK Kids Meals – Minneapolis’ Campbell Mithun’s Junk Food Client”

  1. I was trying to find the caloric value of your average Juicy Lucy over on JLrestuarantsdotcom….couldn’t find that tab?

    I know I know Matts is a bar and doesn’t advertise to children…just had to get a little jab in there somewhere.

    mmmmm cheeseburgers.

  2. Solid post Ed. It’s a shame that a hometown company doesn’t have the standards to turn down this type of work. I know it’s a tough economy, but have some morals.
    In my utopia, fast food advertising will be banned, but we know that won’t ever happen. It would be cool to see all marketing targeting kids banned or at least all fast food marketing that airs during kids tv programs or connects with kids movies.

  3. Someone should invent a new name for this…call it “Healthwashing” or something like that. Whatever you call it it’s no real surprise. BK and McD’s and everyone else needs to pretend they have healthy options when everyone knows they’re selling greasy comfo-junk food that’s loaded with calories and salt.

    But, it’s not C-M’s fault. They’re a marketing firm, and the difficult or morally ambiguous projects sometimes make for the most interesting projects. It’s just business. It’s not their job to be effective parents.

    There’s a simple way to keep kids away from crappy food, and it’s exactly what Nancy R. taught us lo so many years ago: Just Say No.

  4. The Childrens Advertising Review Unit of the BBB — great idea but advertising restrictions are self-imposed (read: meaningless) and enforcement is a joke. Federal initiatives now focus on teaching kids how to decode/navigate advertising. And the Burger Kings are not held responsible, plus their tax deductions for business advertising still exist.

    Thank you for taking the time to write this, we need all the help we can get.

  5. “mealtime as playtime”
    …great, so that is their foundation from which they base both these meals and their ads. Explains a lot…like how most FF restaurants are filled with unruly kids.

    I wonder how many years it takes to break this conditioning? Or is it the FF world just the gateway into the sports bar set…where it takes their first heart attack (or third trip to rehab, whichever comes first) to break that conditioning.

  6. I cant even begin to explain how much the hershey thing on the milk irks me. On the *very* rare occasion that we eat at a fast food burger place (almost always limited to being on the road traveling for vacation), we don’t buy our child a kid meal but have her eat a small portion of my meal (better for both of us). But I’m always going to have to buy her a milk, since she doesn’t drink soda or fake juice. Even though she’s only 2, she knows exactly what that logo means, and if I give her a milk with that on there she is going to freak out if it is not chocolate like promised. Which means either a two year old tantrum in public, or getting her the chocolate milk. At least now I am forwarned to grab the milk before she sees it, pour it in a cup and toss the bottle.

    Oh, who am I kidding. We’ll just keep eating at subway when we have to eat fast food, like always.

  7. I am so sick of people trying to find a scapegoat for everyone else’s poor decision-making these days! What, are parents to have NO responsibility anymore for their own children and relinquish all control over what their kids eat to the media? Last time I checked, Campbell Mithun wasn’t paying someone from the agency to come out your house in Bloomington, pick up your kid, take her/him into a Burger King restaurant and seduce them into odering a double cheeseburger and fries. I agree that fast food is the root of all evil, and that kids are exposed to it way too much. But it’s their PARENTS who are putting in in their mouths, not the ad agency for crying out loud. Parents do have the right to say no, and need to be held accountable to fulfill their duties as parents and exhibit some control and influence! Is the next generation supposed to learn everything and be driven to their goals in life strictly from watching TV? Are parents becoming obsolete? God, I hope not!

    And I don’t know about you, but it’s refreshing to see someone in this food industry, kids’ marketing especially, actually ADVERTISING the HEALTHY choices, versus peddling the worst-for-you thing on the menu to get you in the door, only showing the healthy choices in the fine print when you get there. Like the veggie burger… they should be advertising that to adults, but they advertise the $1 double cheeseburger instead. BK should be getting credit for actually trying to do something good in the grand scheme of things, in this industry.

    If you’re gonna attack BK and CM, you have to give equal consideration to everyone else out there who actually ARE selling BAD choices to kids. And what about those violent video games marketed to kids? I’d rather hear my kid ask me for a cheesburger than for a video game that allows him to play in a fantastical world where he can chop someone’s head off. Let’s talk about what’s REALLY morally wrong out there these days. Eating and having the ability to choose where & what you eat is morally wrong? Give me a break.

  8. Dorothy, I don’t know where you read that Ed believe parents have no responsibility in choosing what their kids eat. I think he was pointing out the difference between what corporate Burger King pledges to do and what they really do in practice. And even though it’s not Burger King’s job to make or sell healthy food to kids, I think it’s okay to question the company’s ethics, since “advertising” healthy foods — a noble effort — doesn’t really mean that anyone’s purchasing them. Finally, Ed doesn’t really need to write about violent video games or any other nasty things marketing to kids just because he wrote about cheeseburgers (which is a topic he knows something about). It’s his blog. I’m not going to demand that you comment on corporate tax deductions that Burger King gets for their marketing budgets, now am I?

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