McDonald’s, the world’s largest chain of fast food restaurants, is also the largest toy distributor in the world. McDonald’s is the pioneer of including a toy in a fast food meal. About 1.5 billion toys are packaged yearly in Happy Meals.
Despicable me Happy Meals toys. Photo source: moresay
Happy Meals were first introduced in 1979 on McDonald’s menu. Although initially there were just some simple plastic toys, in recent years McDonald’s toys become increasingly elaborate. Between the mid-1980s and 2007 McDonald’s toys were usually characters from Disney movies. In 2007, Disney decided to use their characters to promote healthier foods so didn’t renew the contract with McDonald’s.
Today many of McDonald’s toys are a tie into an existing toy line, movie, or TV show and have great success to kids. In a recent survey realized by Which? 38% of 8-11 year-old said McDonald’s was their favorite fast food chain because of the toys from Happy Meals.
Is not a secret anymore that fast-food corporations appeals to children to bring their parents as customers. According to a recent report (2012) of the Federal Trade Commission (an independent agency of the United States government), 56% of fast food restaurants include a toy with kids’ meals. McDonald’s and Burger King are the market leaders in the premium space.
Happy Meals bring lot of profit to McDonald’s. Although the fast food chain doesn’t say how many Happy Meals it sells, it is known that the percentage is more than 10% of sales. McDonald’s makes more than $32 billion every year, so Happy Meals might represent $3 billion in annual sales. This revenue alone overcomes the total sales of Burger King, or Dairy Queen ($2,5 billion each).
McDonald’s has used toys as an effective marketing tool in 2012 when the brand was sponsor of London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. During the Mascotathon campaign “activity toys” were included within Happy Meals. In order to make children active, the toys could measure how many jumps, hops, steps and skips a kids made in a day. Children were then encouraged to log on to an online game that translates their actions into energy. This energy helped the Game mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville to arrive in time for the opening ceremonies.
McDonald’s toys are collected by enthusiasts around the world. The original McDonald’s characters (including Ronald McDonald) are rare and well sought after among collectors.
Vintage 1970’s Ronald McDonald Dolls. Photo source: ebay
Laws that ban toys in children’s meals
In November 2011 San Francisco introduced the Healthy Food Incentive Ordinance as a measure of reducing childhood obesity. Free toys are forbidden in children’s meals that are sold in restaurants, if they don’t meet certain nutritional standards. The law asks for reducing fats and sodium and adding more fruits and vegetables. McDonald’s avoided the ban by charging 10 cents for the toys.
On June 7 2012 Chile has passed a similar law that compel McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and other fast-food chains to stop give out free toys with children’s meals.
New marketing strategies for food chains
In order to keep up with the new consumers trends, some fast food chains gave up marketing kids in the last years. In 2011, Jack in the Box announced that was pulling toys from its kids’ meals. Just few weeks ago Taco Bell made a similar announcement that will drop kids meals and toys at all of its U.S. restaurants.
Although McDonald’s made some changes in its Happy Meals by introducing apple slices and low-fat milk, the brand might become isolated in its old marketing strategy.
Happy Meal with milk and apple. Photo source: online.wsj
Some business analysts consider that fast food chains are abandoning the mascots to embrace a healthier, more upscale image. Cartoons don’t have the selling power they once did.
What is your opinion about McDonald’s remaining committed to its kid-marketing practices, including the use of toys?
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