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Happy Meal Marketing
“Can we stop at McDonald’s?”
Countless parents know they can expect that common request from kids in the backseat anytime they pass the golden arches.
Why do so many kids love McDonald’s so much? Happy Meals.
McDonald’s Happy Meals have been a fast-food staple for more than 40 years. They represent one of the most successful examples of tailoring marketing efforts to the right audience.
But the origins of the Happy Meal are a little less clear.
Kansas City-based advertising executive Bob Bernstein claims that he came up with the idea for the Happy Meal in 1975 after watching his 9-year-old son read a cereal box during breakfast. He created the kid-friendly packaging to give kids something to do while they ate.
Thousands of miles south in Guatemala, McDonald’s franchise owner Yolanda Fernandez de Cofiño noticed children (and their parents) struggled to pick kid-friendly items from the regular menu. So she introduced “Ronald’s Menu” consisting of a burger, fries, soda, and sundae with a novelty toy from the local market.
Their ideas would come together to form the Happy Meal as we know it.
Catering to the Kids
Thanks to the Happy Meal, kids have a reason to ask for McDonald’s by name in search of a more fun dining experience (and a cool toy). At the same time, it made fast food stops more palatable for busy parents.
Critics point to the Happy Meal as the start of a child-focused advertising push along with a focus on unhealthy fast food. For its part, McDonald’s has kept up a steady stream of new toy promotions from Beanie Babies to Marvel to keep kids interested. And it’s evolved the meals to keep parents on board, including healthier food options and more sustainable packaging.
Today, about 1 billion Happy Meals are sold each year in more than 100 countries.