The family television advocacy group Parents Television Council is pressuring global fast food giant McDonald's to stop running commercials that air during the Fox adult cartoon comedy series "Family Guy," a show which the organization claims trivializes sexual assault against children.
Earlier this month, PTC board member Gary Lesser sent a letter to McDonald's newly hired global Chief Communications Officer, Robert Gibbs, who served as the White House press secretary under Barack Obama from 2009-2011. The letter urged Gibbs to persuade the corporation to change its advertising decisions so that the family brand no longer associates itself with shows that make fun of sexual violence.
According to a PTC research report on the "Family Guy" released in May, there were over 23 scenes in "Family Guy" episodes in the last year alone that referenced sexual violence in some manner, with 19 of them being sexual violence toward children. The report found that in the last three years, 79 percent of the show's sexual violence scenes were perpetrated on children or teens.
In 2014-2015, 91 percent of the show's sexual violence scenes focused on children, while McDonald's sponsored 43 percent of the "Family Guy" episodes that featured a "humorous depiction of rape, statutory rape, molestation, or pedophilia."
"How can a company that sells Happy Meals to children use its media dollars to sponsor jokes about sexually assaulting children?" Lesser's letter asked. "And from a consumer marketing standpoint, why would that same company expect families to reasonably purchase that company's products?"
"A strong and immediate commitment by the company not to associate its hard-earned brand image with jokes about raping children would help to restore the trust that many families feel has been violated," the letter continued. "There can be no doubt that such commitment would have an immediate and positive impact on the corporation's bottom line."
In an interview with The Christian Post, Melissa Henson, PTC's director of communications and public education, explained that McDonald's used to be one of the most family-friendly advertisers in the corporate world, but in the past few years McDonald's has widened its advertising reach and has begun advertising on shows that are much less suited for families.
"We are trying to get them to change their sponsorship behavior. They used to be one of the most family-friendly advertisers out there but in recent years, increasingly, we are seeing their ads on programs that contain high levels of sexual content and violence, and most disturbingly, on programs like 'Family Guy,'" Henson explained. "So to see McDonald's, a family brand, on a show like that is very troubling."
Henson told CP that Gibbs' recent hiring as the new McDonald's spokesman opens the possibility that the company could change its ad placement strategy, since Gibbs was the spokesman for an Obama White House that stood firm against sexual violence.
"We have been trying to raise this issue at McDonald's corporate headquarters," Henson said. "Gary Lesser penned a letter to Robert Gibbs because of this administration's rhetoric over the last several years of probing sexual assault on college campuses and that this was a priority for this administration. So, it should be a priority for McDonald's to disassociate itself from that kind of content."
Henson also opined that McDonald's current non-family-friendly ad placements on programs like "Family Guy" has led to the company's decrease in sales.
"When McDonald's was pursuing a more family-friendly ad strategy — because for a time they were on our list of best advertisers — none of its competitors could touch them. They were out performing … their total sales outperformed Burger King, Subway and Starbucks combined," Henson added. "But in recent years, I would say that there has been a lot of confusion at the corporate level about who it is that they are trying to appeal to. I think that's where their advertising reflects their confusion. At the same time, their sales have fallen off substantially."
Although many might argue that McDonald's sales may have fallen because of increasing disdain for the unhealthiness in the company's food products, Henson said that Wendy's — a McDonald's business rival which has family-friendly advertising placements — has not had that same financial struggle.
"You can say that all those setbacks are because of Americans changing attitudes about fast food or what have you, but Wendy's has not suffered in the same way McDonald's has and I think there is a distinction to be made here," Henson argued.
Toward the end of his letter, Lesser wrote that if McDonald's were to take a stand and remove its advertisements from "Family Guy" timeslots, it would send a "deafening" message to the public.
"McDonald's is a corporate giant and a global leader with billions to spend on advertising. But with that position and influence comes a tremendous responsibility to be a responsible corporate citizen," Lesser contended. "If McDonald's refuses to underwrite programming that trivializes sexual violence, it sends a loud and clear message to other advertisers."