McDonald's Won't Retire Ronald - So Let's Kill Him Like Joe Camel

Now that McDonald's has rejected calls backed up by a very expensive advertising campaign asking the company to retire Ronald, perhaps it's time to use legal action to kill him off, just as antismoking activists did with Joe Camel
May 20, 2011 - PRLog -- Now that McDonald's has rejected calls backed up by a very expensive advertising campaign asking the company to retire Ronald, perhaps it's time to use legal action to kill him off, just as antismoking activists did with Joe Camel, says the public interest law professor who developed and nurtured the concept of using law suits such as the ones which did in Joe Camel and other cartoon characters used to promote cigarettes to children, and who was behind two fat law suits against McDonald's.

"The cost of running full page ads in many major newspapers across the country, not to mention the time and money which went into persuading more than 550 physicians and organization to back the call to retire Ronald McDonald, might have better been spent on encouraging legal actions similar to those which have been so successful in not only fighting against smoking, but in forcing giant food companies to make major changes in their products," suggests public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who has been called "a driving force behind the lawsuits that have cost tobacco companies billions of dollars," and "a major crusader against big tobacco and now among those targeting the food industry."

Prof. Banzhaf says corporations whose actions harm the public rarely do anything until they are forced to do so, noting that he had to use legal action to get antismoking messages on radio and television, to prohibit cigarette commercials, or to kill off Joe Camel - things which probably could not have been achieved even if legislation were possible because of First Amendment concerns.  Litigation also led to legislation banning smoking in workplaces and public places.

McDonald's reformulated its Chicken McNuggets only after a federal judge upheld a lawsuit against the company, calling the product a "McFrankenstein" creation.  The fast food giant agreed to discontinue supersizing only after the movie "Supersize Me," inspired by a Banzhaf lawsuit, embarrassed it into doing so.  It took legislation - first in New York City and California, and now nationally - to force the company to disclose on their menu boards just how many calories its offerings contain.   Also, argues Banzhaf, McDonald's didn't introduce lower-calorie entrees and desserts, or fruit and yogurt desserts, until forced to do so by the growing public pressure triggered by fat law suits and the publicity they generated.

Filing complaints against various unfair and deceptive advertising and promotional practices by McDonald's with attorneys general, or with agencies which enforce consumer protections laws in the states (so-called "state FTCs"), is likely to be much more effective than writing letters and running expensive advertising campaigns in getting McDonald's to reform, suggests Banzhaf, because AGs and agencies have powerful enforcement tools at their disposal. Similarly, filing law suits in court under these same statutes could be equally effective, especially since the standard of proof for plaintiffs is so low, and the defenses available for defendants so few.

For example, when Ronald McDonald goes into schools to persuade kids that they can eat McDonald's foods without getting fat simply by getting enough exercise, that's a misrepresentation, says Banzhaf. "A typical child might have to play volleyball more than eight hours to work off the calories in a single Mighty Kids Meal."

"Suing the Bastards," while often seen only as a last resort, is unfortunately usually far more efficient and cost effective than writing polite letters, says Banzhaf.  Now that he has helped start a movement of using legal action as a weapon against the problem of obesity - and at least ten legal actions against giants like KFC, Coke, Kraft, Pepsi, Kellogg, and even McDonald's have been successful - it's time others started living by their writs rather than relying on ad dollars.

The first successful fat law suit was put together by Prof. Banzhaf's students at the George Washington University Law School - groups the media has dubbed "Banzhaf's Bandits."   McDonald's not only agreed to their demands, but also was forced to pay more than $12 million to settle the class action law suit.  Now ten such legal actions, brought under a variety of different legal theories, have been successful, notes Banzhaf.

"Perhaps if these prestigious organizations and individuals cannot persuade enough attorneys to bring such cases at little or no cost ("pro bono"), they can at least persuade law students and public-interest-minded law professors to help get them a big stick the next time they want to speak softly to McDonald's."

Banzhaf was erroneously identified in some media reports as one of the signatories on the letter.  He was also chosen to debate Neil Cavuto on Fox News concerning the role of Ronald McDonald in the epidemic of pediatric obesity.

Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
Creator, Banzhaf Index of Voting Power
2000 H Street, NW, Suite S402
Washington, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418

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John F. Banzhaf III is a Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University Law School [] where he is best known for his work regarding smoking [], obesity [], etc.
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