The Children’s Advertising Review Unit recently recommended that Burger King modify broadcast advertising that focused less on food and more on the toys offered with its children’s meal.

The ad at issue for the BK Kids Meal featured two boys pretending to be SpongeBob Squarepants characters, using fake voices and their hands. The meal itself – a burger, apple fries, and a juice box – appeared only in the opening and closing shots.

Burger King argued that the advertisement had been approved by CARU in its prescreening process, and that the commercial fully met the requirements of CARU’s guidelines.

But CARU determined that the premium message was primary and the product secondary in the commercial.

“[A]lthough the first and last shots depicted a BK Kids Meal, the rest of the commercial largely focused on the SpongeBob toys and how they worked. For example, the commercial featured two boys using fake voices and their hands to pretend that they were SpongeBob Squarepants characters. Indeed, the characters were ‘showing’ each other what they could do, from squirting water at each other, to changing colors. There was no food depicted again until the very last shot, which again showed the stage and the burger, apple fries, and juice box,” CARU said.

Because CARU’s guidelines express concern that “the use of premiums . . . has the potential to enhance the appeal of . . . products to children,” it reminded advertisers that they “should take special care in using . . . promotions to guard against exploiting children’s immaturity.”

CARU also noted that while it had approved the storyboards for the commercial, the version it approved contained five frames of food, not two “brief shots” in the final ad.

Why it matters: “Advertising that contains a premium message should focus the child’s attention primarily on the product and make the premium message clearly secondary,” CARU emphasized.