KFC in Australia Tries to Put Stop to 'Pester Power'

Chain Eliminates Toys in Kids' Meals

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Parents in Australia may find themselves being pestered by their kids less when it comes to fast-food kids meals.

The Daily Telegraph reports that KFC Australia will announce it is removing toys from its children's meals in all 600 stores Down Under. The move comes three years after the chain committed to stop advertising or actively promoting its kids menu.

"We think the idea of toys being given away with meals has had its day and we're pleased to be taking the lead in removing them," said corporate affairs manager Zac Rich. "This is the next step in removing so-called pester power at our stores altogether. We hope this decision today will support parents in making dietary decisions on behalf of their children which aren't influenced in any way by pressure to choose the meal that has a toy."

What struck us was the use of the phrase "pester power," which refers to kids' ability to nag their parents about items to the point of parents actually purchasing those items. Though the phrase seems to have caught on in the 1970s, marketers had long been seeding the concept in ads. Here's a classic commercial for Maypo, unique in that it not only engenders pester power in the viewing children, but showcases it in the ad itself.

Of course, "pester power" isn't something you actually hear marketers utter much, even when they're doing something to minimize it.

KFC in the U.S. has not offered toys in kids' meals since 2002, and kids' meals account for less than 1% of U.S. sales -- which is likely why it's easier for a chains such as KFC or, more recently, Jack in the Box, to do away with kids' meals: It has little to no bearing on sales. (Jack in the Box in June eliminated toys from kids' meals, and said its decision to do so was not the result of mounting pressure from advocacy groups urging chains to stop marketing to kids, but rather to focus on its core customer.)

McDonald's, on the other hand, generates substantial sales from its Happy Meal -- as much as 10% of U.S. business. The chain stands by its tactics despite continually being under fire for its use of Ronald McDonald and marketing the Happy Meal. CEO Jim Skinner in May stood by Ronald McDonald during the company's annual meeting, calling the mascot an "ambassador for good," referencing the clown's support for the Ronald McDonald House charity.

But rather than eliminate toys, in July McDonald's announced an overhaul of some menu items, including those in the Happy Meal, a move meant to improve the chain's nutritional profile.

There have been a couple of U.S. initiatives this summer directed at curbing what's marketed to kids, but those initiatives are voluntary. The restaurant industry recently announced Kids LiveWell, an initiative meant to spur chains (Burger King, among others, is participating) to offer and promote healthier kids-meal options; and the Better Business Bureau's Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative said it would enforce the same nutritional standards for all 17 of its members, rather than letting companies pick and choose their own rules.