Mcdonald's Corp's MCD partnership with rapper Travis Scott marks its first celebrity collaboration since a series of iconic commercials with NBA legend Michael Jordan in the 1990s.
The deal also brings up an important social issue that may be overlooked: the use of celebrities to "promote addictive products," processed food addiction expert Dr. Joan Ifland, Ph.D., told Benzinga in an email.
'Food-Like Substances': Consumers have the freedom to choose what they eat. But once processed foods shift from real food to "addictive food-like substances," there needs to be a discussion on how a well-established body of law comes into play, Ifland told Benzinga.
A balance is needed, she said, as food addiction is real, and scientific studies have found people get a dopamine high from eating processed foods.
Celebrities have always been used to promote addictive products, Ifland said, dating back to the era of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall smoking in movies.
"Celebrity endorsements work," she said. "People want to emulate celebrities. People know, like, and trust celebrities so consumers are made comfortable buying the products they endorse."
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McDonald's Likely Knows The Risks: It's "certainly possible" that McDonald's management is aware of the social risks of promoting its food products with Scott, but proceeded anyways with a marketing campaign, Ifland said.
The company may even be looking to reverse a trend seen over the past few years in which healthier alternatives to McDonald's like Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. CMG rose in popularity, she said.
This wouldn't necessarily be anything new. Author Michael Moss detailed in his 2014 book "Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us" how processed food manufacturers consciously make their foods addictive.
"It is reasonable to assume that McDonald's is also using this kind of research and development," Ifland said.
Instead, McDonald's should task a celebrity with promoting its healthy products, such as salads, she said.
Toys In The Commercial: McDonald's marketed its Travis Scott meal with a toy version of the popular rapper in a commercial.
At three points in the commercial, the toy uses phrases that could be seen as a marketing tactic toward children, Ifland said: "what's up world?" "Yeah, you — follow me" and "you can try too."
"Once the child feels wanted, the child may be motivated to avoid offending the character and risking rejection by following suggestions and ordering the same meal," Ifland said.
"The toy uses 'my' in front of each item in the meal to make clear that this is what the child should order to be in the in-crowd with the character."
The commercial also includes close-ups of the meal that would activate cravings in addicted neurons in the reward centers of the brain, she said.
"The combination of a variety of addictive ingredients makes the food more addictive and harder to quit," Ifland said. "The items shown combine such addictive ingredients as sweetener, flour, gluten, salt, concentrated dairy (cheese), processed fat and high-heat potato (fries)."
McDonald's Responds To Criticism: The restaurant chain's collaboration with Scott is about McDonald's fans and giving them an opportunity to enjoy a order in a new way, the company told Benzinga in a statement.
"We're excited to offer our customers the chance to connect with Travis over a shared love of McDonald's food. Across our full menu, we're committed to using quality ingredients — like the 100% pure, fresh beef in Travis's signature order."
Fresh beef is available at most McDonald's locations in the contiguous U.S., excluding Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. territories, the company said.
"We also offer a variety of menu options and customization opportunities as well as transparently provide nutrition and ingredient information through our Nutrition Calculator and Mobile App, so people can make informed choices that fit their needs."
Photo courtesy of McDonald's.
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