The Medieval Times

The student news site of Cabell Midland High School

The student news site of Cabell Midland High School

The Medieval Times

The student news site of Cabell Midland High School

The Medieval Times

The Grim Reality of Fast-Food Advertising and Its Influence on Internet Culture

Credit: McDonald’s

In today’s world, you can be sure there’s always someone or something trying to capture your attention. It could be a commercial jingle ringing in your head, or some recurring, enticing image of a product; some statement is being imposed on your mind, whether you are aware of it or not.

It’s these economic decisions chosen by businesses that motivate consumers, inclining them to do something. Businesses want the consumer (you) to buy or invest in a product, showing support for a given cause to some degree. Most often, these appeals are formed based on ethical, emotional, and logical principles—in this case, the appeal is directed at your stomach.

Fast-food establishments are the primary business to use these methods of advertisement, utilizing multimedia to promote their respective products (often a new menu item) through television commercials, coupons, newspaper adverts, movie promotions, and/or social media spots, often utilizing authority figures (celebrities) to reinforce their assertions.

The popularity of these celebrity-endorsed combo meals can arguably be traced back to the 90s, consisting of the “McJordan Meal” from 1991, promoted by none other than Michael Jordan. These collaborations have persisted throughout the years, McDonald’s often choosing to partner with singers (Aitana, Sebastián Yatra, Mariah Carey), rappers (J Balvin, Travis Scott, Cardi B & Offset), and even fictional characters within their own franchise (Grimace).

Trends in fast food advertisement have transcended in today’s society, taking a new form and becoming synonymous with memes such as the Spider-Verse Burger and Grimace Shake. By examining the impact of each trend on media culture respectively, we can identify how each item’s individual consequences are rooted in the onset of health abnormalities.

One of the earliest meals to spark internet-wide response was the Travis Scott Meal, released by McDonald’s in 2020. Certainly, this was not McDonald’s first celebrity meal, but it marked a milestone of sorts, serving as the first development in a social media trend characterized by health issues.

The meal in question included a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with cheese, bacon and lettuce; fries with barbecue dipping sauce, and a Sprite.

The general nature of the meal itself was enough to provoke audiences. Everyone was headed to their local McDonald’s, shouting in the drive thru, “you know what I’m here for” and blasting Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode.” The message was instantaneous—internet trends efficiently translated to fast-establishments—and every cashier knew it was the Travis Scott Meal customers wanted.

But it was Sprite that piqued the interest of worldwide consumers and researchers alike. Memes began to develop referring to the carbonation of McDonald’s Sprite with an almost fierce potency. Users leapt to TikTok citing the beverage was “spicy,” and voiced wary concerns. While the situation was subject to exaggeration, people nonetheless feared for their safety.

The incident was bad enough, in fact, that Australia enlisted a nationwide ban on Sprite in all its McDonald’s franchisee establishments, instead resorting to the use of a zero-sugar variant.

But what caused this ban? Certainly not the memes—but is there some truth to the allegations? Well, it is claimed that McDonald’s uses advanced filtration to remove impurities from water, fostering a larger syrup-to-water ratio as opposed to other restaurants.

It is additionally cited that because McDonald’s chills both the soda syrup and its filtered water, the soda is afforded more CO2 during the carbonation process, which is made possible by an insulated tube running from the fridge to the soda fountain; this system and other like it have continued to effectively assure that your soda will never be “flat.”

The culmination of these factors, consuming large concentrations of high fructose corn syrup and other chemicals contained within carbonated beverages—not just in Sprite, but all sodas—can result in potential health disorders such as heart and fatty liver disease, as well as diabetes.

In more recent cases, online videos have sprung up resulting by the implication of severe injury or death as an apparent consequence of consuming allegedly harmful products; videos parodying Burger King’s “Spider-Verse” Whopper, released back in May, highlighted larger health concerns.

The anticipated release of the burger nearly eclipsed the popularity of the movie it promoted, which would be released a month later. The food item in question featured a distinctive red bun and black sesame seeds.

Fans immediately leapt to social media to share their own whimsical takes depicting the fatal consequences of ingesting the food item (hospitalization), drawing evident connections between the burger’s color and resulting harm caused by red 40.

But is red 40 really as harmful as everyone says it is, in conjunction with other supposed “cancer-causing” additives?

Foremost, it’s important to identify the truth clouded amongst online misconceptions. According to, red “dye” 40 poses “little health risk,” at worst, worsening existing allergies or existing mental conditions to a marginal extent. However, it’s important to note that these results are chiefly prominent in children, and there is “no conclusive, human research” to support the existence of further symptoms.

Even so, the European Union sought to ban Skittles, Pop-Tarts, Gatorade, Little Debbie Cakes and a host of other products simply because they contained dyes like “yellow 5, yellow 6 and red 40.”

Found routinely in dairy products, sweets, snacks, baked goods, beverages, and even non-food-based items including cosmetics, red 40 is statistically the most common dye, but is still projected to be harmful when ingested in excessive amounts, much like other chemical additives. Despite this, in most cases, the consumption of red 40 is deemed safe due to its frequency of use.

While the FDA (Federal Department of Agriculture) mandates that the dye be listed by name on food and product labels to ensure that all chemical additives are safe to ingest, it appears that they allow some degree of exception.

Chemical dyes such as bromated vegetable oil, potassium bromate and propyl paraben are purported to induce the worst level of symptoms and have been conjunctively linked to a risk of cancer and hyperactivity in children.

An especially harmful variant of chemical additives based on petroleum distillates known as “coal tars,” are reportedly capable of damaging skin through contact, leading to irritation.

One such additive, “yellow 5,” is claimed to “harm cells over time.” Healthline states that most skin damage is inflicted through gradual contact, “especially when cells are exposed to greater amounts that the recommended intake.”

Recently, the use of petroleum dyes has been detected in another prevalent limited-time promotional product released by McDonald’s: the Grimace Shake. On June 9, the Grimace Birthday Meal launched to promote the anniversary of the fifty-two-year-old McDonald’s character. The meal consisted of a Big Mac (or ten-piece McNuggets), fries, and, of course, the Grimace Birthday Shake.

The shake allegedly tasted like a “mix of berries with a hint of birthday cake,” enveloped by a distinct purple coloring that resembled Grimace itself.

A man who goes by Austin Frazier on TikTok supposedly incited these concerns, beginning a trend on TikTok by posting an edit of himself eerily motionless in a puddle of purple, implicating death as an immediate consequence of drinking the beverage. However, in his words, Austin claims that the video was in good fun; “It’s just supposed to be a meme about its really weird color, means it’s not good for you, Grimace is collecting victims… It’s just funny.”

Investigation has yielded, however, much like other cases, that the shake is not at all harmful (at least not in the way it was originally portrayed.)  Perhaps this is just another case of media taking a headline and running away with in; in this case, Grimace’s killing spree. In fact, social media headlines have such a grip on some, that even impressionably minded children genuinely fear for their lives (see video.)

For all its speculation, these consequences however real seem a bit excessive considering most dyes are predominately used simply as coloring agents to create attractive hues for purchase.

While there are some apparent benefits in the fast-food realm resulting from internet trends (Domino’s Emergency Pizza, “Free Fry Friday”), it remains important to distinguish between adverse, unhealthy effects in understanding the increasing influence advertising has on our lives in conjunction with social media trends.


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