5 Best Practices for Ethically Marketing Fast Food to Children

The fast food industry is booming, with the market expected to reach $690 billion by 2022 (James, 2019). However, as children represent a large portion of this growth, marketing to children could cause future implications for your brand’s reputation. 

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Written by Paul Alyar, SB Fort, Kassidy Gamble, Ali Lasday, and Emily Siegel

As children represent a large portion of this growth, marketing to children could cause future implications for your brand’s reputation.

Follow these five steps to market fast food ethically. 

  1. Advertise Kid Meals on Adult or Family Shows 

While adults are not your target audience, advertising kids meals on shows that require parental supervision can allow parents to feel more in control. The advertisement could also include a healthy snack that may influence the parents’ decision next time they’re looking to buy a family meal. 

  1. Partner with Youth-Focused Organizations 

There are many organizations who strive to help kids be active and stay healthy. If you partner with groups such as Fuel Up to Play 60 to encourage active lifestyles, it will lower the negative impacts fast food has when children indulge in these meals (Fuel Up to Play 60, 2018). 

  1. Cut the Toy

Fast food restaurants are known to include a small toy with every kid’s meal, encouraging children to eat unhealthy food. By removing the incentive, children may request unhealthy options less often. 

  1. Please Eat Responsibly 

Similar to how alcohol companies say “please drink responsibly” at the end of advertisements, something similar could be implemented for fast food advertising. The wording could be simpler to grab children’s attention, possibly in the form of a cartoon, and could shift children’s thoughts about fast food as only a treat or reward. 

  1. Create a Healthy Relationship Between Child and Food 

For parents who have a hard time getting their kids to eat a healthy diet, deception may seem like the best way to get kids to eat better. However, a study shows that this actually fosters an unhealthy connection in children’s minds about eating right and kids then learn to choose foods based on marketing cues rather than based on personal preference or nutritional content (Linn, 2017).

When marketing fast food to children, it is crucial to consider that their media literacy is almost nonexistent. Fast food marketers must find balance between promoting their business and setting our future generations up for success. 



Fuel Up to Play 60. (2018). Celebrating 10 Years of Fuel Up to Play 60. Fuel Up to Play 60. Retrieved from https://www.fueluptoplay60.com/10th_anniversary 

Linn, S., Simon, M. (2017, December 6). The Dark Side Of Marketing Healthy Food to Children. Huffington Post. Retrieved from 


James. (2019, September 19). Fast Food Industry Insight. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/qara/fast-food-market-summary-3b7e6a12abe2#:~:text=The%20fast%20fo od%20industry%20has%20seen%20a%20surge%20of%20growth,with%20a%20CAGR%20of% 204.2%25.