Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Free Toy Promotions, Fast Food Children's Meals and Social Responsibility: Examining the Effects of Toy Value, Nutrition Information and Moderating Variable

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Free Toy Promotions, Fast Food Children's Meals and Social Responsibility: Examining the Effects of Toy Value, Nutrition Information and Moderating Variable

Article excerpt

Previous studies on consumer sales promotion have overlooked the effects of free toys offered with fast food children's meals. Toys as sales promotions, initially introduced in the 1970s, have become increasingly more high-valued over time (Adams, 2010; Blattberg and Neslin, 1990; Webley, 2010). Recent concerns about the influence of free toys as well as children pester power and obesity have given rise to appeals for quick service restaurants (QSRs) to reduce substantially the value of toys or put an end completely to offering toys with meals (Ozersky, 2010). Some critics have called for toy promotions to be used only with healthier meals (Strom, 2011). Others have questioned the ethical practice of using toys, and have encouraged government action because of distrust of QSRs and a perceived lack of consumer understanding of nutrition information (Burton et al., 2009; Ozersky, 2010).

Promotion decision-makers of some QSRs have argued that government should not get involved because the impact of toy promotions has been unclear or negligible (Ubelacker, 2012). Promotion decision-makers have also argued that the fast food industry is not responsible for high rates of childhood obesity; that parents, not government, should make fast food decisions, and that toys are an enjoyable part of the meal experience (Wilkey, 2011). However, with families eating out at QSRs often (i.e., 84% of parents take children to QSRs at least once a week), vulnerability to toys and social responsibility of QSRs have become important topics (Boland et at., 2012; Ubelacker, 2012).

Over the past decade, many organizations have responded to challenges of social responsibility by increasing the quality of their products and improving the acceptability of their promotions. Paying attention to social responsibility and ethical issues has enhanced their profits in the long-term (Achrol and Kotler, 2012; Sheth et at., 2011). For QSRs, social responsibility issues regarding the unacceptability of toy offers appear to be vital concerns. Although children's meals are important sources of profits, social issues might be key initiatives for the long-term. Levels of nutrition can logically be categorized as consumer well-being and social responsibility concerns, and by extension toys can be viewed as part of these concerns. However, if QSRs alter toy promotions, what is unknown is consumer response.

The current research uses two experimental studies to provide answers to a number of questions including: If toys were totally withdrawn from children's meals or were a substantially reduced value, would consumers have different responses toward the meals? If toys were used as promotions with healthier meals but not with normal meals, would consumers have different responses? The answers to these questions are important in addressing consumer well-being and designing programs that will appeal to target audiences. Further, in assessing situations under which toy promotions would be acceptable and effective, an understanding of moderators that influence relationships between independent and dependent variables is important (Baron and Kenny, 1986). Along these lines, need for cognition, or the degree to which a consumer tends to engage in careful evaluation of products and promotions, is thought to be an influential moderator. The current research examines whether individual differences in need for cognition has any effects on responses. In the following four sections, this paper first provides rationale for the two studies. Sections two and three contribute detailed descriptions of the studies; wherein, hypotheses, method, findings, and discussion for each study are given. The final section discusses implications and concludes with recommendations for future efforts.


Almost all free toy promotions have been touchable physical incentives, such as hair barrettes, spinners, yo-yos, miniature car models, or tiny donkey figures. …

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