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[11 comments]

McD's gets pushback on new Happy Meal food and mascot

May 20, 2014

Customers now have another option other than fries when ordering McDonald's Happy Meals for their kids. The fast food chain has announced the addition of a 50-calorie version of Go-Gurt Low-Fat Strawberry Yogurt to its menu. McD's also introduced a new animated character named Happy to promote its meals with kids. The response from child health advocates and social media to the news was probably not what the chain had hoped.

The new yogurt option comes with 25 percent less sugar than the same brand sold in retail stores. While parents and public health advocates have asked McDonald's to improve the nutrition in the company's Happy Meals, the vast majority of customers have chosen French fries over apple slices, the other more nutritious option on the menu.

"It's good they're adding another option, but they've still got a long ways to go," Margo Wootan, director of nutritional policy at Center for Science in the Public Interest, told USA Today. "I'd be much more excited if they added more fruit or vegetable items."

McDonald's is also introducing its new Happy character this week. The character is intended to represent a smiling Happy Meal box and is meant to promote eating healthier foods for kids. While some, including Ms. Wootan, like the idea of Happy, the character is eliciting negative responses on social media for being too scary.

While McDonald's asks people to say hello to its newest friend, here are some tweets posted on the chain's Twitter page:

"This looks so scary"
"This was a Mcstake"
"Who thought this was a good idea"
"I think I'm going to have nightmares"
"It's the meal that eats you"

The reviews of a video introducing the new character didn't go much better on Facebook either with some claiming the character was "creepy" and thought up by someone who didn't have small children of their own. Beyond that, quite a few posts suggested that Happy was a not too subtle borrowing of the minion characters from Despicable Me. One poster wrote, "Within five seconds, I knew it was going to be a wannabe minion from Despicable Me. You got caught, Mickey D."

FINANCIALS:     [NYSE:MCD] [ ]

Discussion Questions:

What do you think about McDonald's changes to its Happy Meal menu and mascot? What would you do to respond to the criticism if you were running the fast food chain?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Which is the bigger problem for McDonald's to deal with when it comes to marketing Happy Meals?

Comments:

I just wish these food critics would shut up. Parents can make choices for their children, and driving by McDonald's is a choice, so leave the fast food chains alone, as they have the right to sell whatever they want. We live in a nanny state, and these food police need real jobs.

My kids know what vegetables look like, as they started eating them when they were little. McDonald's does a great job of providing a quick meal once in a while, and if you want to eat it everyday, with super-size fries, than go ahead, it is your freedom to choose. My parents prepared homemade meals daily, and occasionally we had a burger, and in high school it was a hangout to meet girls. Our culture has lots of cool things we have done from our past, and McDonald's is a wonderful part of it, so leave them alone, as people still want their fries instead of yogurt.

I am just sick of the political correctness, that has made us afraid to breathe, as we release CO2 into the atmosphere, which might melt the glaciers. Give me a break. I'm sure the fast food chains should do quite well this weekend, as people are traveling, and looking for a delicious burger to eat.

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Tony Orlando, Owner, Tony O's Supermarket & Catering

I'd ignore the criticism, because what McD's has to say in response doesn't matter. Those extremists who view them as part of the evil empire won't believe anything they say. Those who think we each are responsible for our own behavior will make their own choices anyway (as apparently most people are choosing fries). It's fast food - if you don't think it's healthy and you care about that, don't feed it to your kids.

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Dr. Stephen Needel, Managing Partner, Advanced Simulations

You can't please all of the people all of the time. As to the criticism of the new Happy Meal menu, McDonald's should not do anything, other than keep telling parents that it's available. McD will never please nutrition groups.

As to criticism of their new Happy Meal menu mascot, McD should listen, consider what is being said, do some more research and then decide whether or not it wants to make changes. A handful or tweets and posts on Facebook do not necessarily represent a true cross section of public opinion. Should research back up the comment, the company should make changes.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

McDonald's is everywhere and as such, it's a target for all sorts of groups. It's the nature of being at the "top of the food chain." Adding another option to the Happy Meal menu is a good thing, even if it may not "go far enough" for some. So, positive step for McDonald's.

As to the mascot, Happy, that oversized mouth and teeth are a bit too much. I understand their emphasis on a smile (goes along with the smile on the happy meal box) and good health, but the execution is a little off. I do wonder how the mascot really fared in focus groups (with adults? children?). But hey, maybe over time we get to love this new Happy (or not)!

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Mohamed Amer, Vice President, Global Consumer Industries, SAP

When your name is McDonald's and you are No. 1 in your field, critics don't care what you do. The food police induced -- bullied is more accurate -- to introduce the McLean hamburger. That was a fiasco, as determined by consumers. This latest carping by "advocates" who would never get caught dead in a McDonald's is pushing the chain in the same direction.

Tony, Stephen and Max are right on. The bottom line: If consumers want to eat healthy, or their kids to eat healthy, they wouldn't head for McDonald's. Should they opt for McDonald's, they know what they want to order before they walk in, and can do it without the nagging from said "advocates."

David Schulz, Contributing Editor, HomeWorld Business

McDonald wants to be good citizens. Yea! They keep prices low (wages too) and try to please Washington's envisioned concept of better treats for kids' diets.

So Old McDonald now has a fresh new Farm and a new Happy dude, but kids are rude and not yet in today's politically correct mood. So herewith Ol' Mr. McD applies to kids to agree to eat what's in The White House decree.

Ol' Mc D,
Now says he,
"We want thee."
But what's key?
You kids pout
At green sprout.

The Fed cries
"No French Fries."
We've tried new
Less grease too.
You want "taste"
In your haste.

So we'll try
To find why
Nutrition isn't yummy
To the young tummy.
We'll keep food fats
Despite bureaucrats.

Your devoted servant,
Ol' Mac

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Gene Hoffman, President/CEO, Corporate Strategies International

No matter what McDonald's does they will get slammed by social media. McDonald's needs to stay focused on selling as much junk food as they can, which is in the best interest of shareholders. McDonald's is in the business of selling junk food by any legal means possible.

I think they have gone above and beyond by offering a few healthy choices. Kids don't want to go to McDonald's for apples and yogurt. They want want hamburgers, french fries and chicken nuggets. And McDonald's is going to serve it right up, too.

My response would be to just offer consumers what they want, not what critics think they should offer. The money is made selling to customers, not to critics. Everyone who has ever slammed me in the press or criticized my business methods has also never paid me a dime in consulting fees. Guess who I'm going to listen to?

David Livingston, Principal, DJL Research

The fast food industry may have established a public perspective that their only concerns for public safety and health are those that the government mandates as a requirement. For the larger, well known members of this retail market ,much has been forgotten, overlooked and disregarded.

In our present day economy, the fast food market has shrunken to unhealthy financial lows. So let us take a quick scan of some of the marketing leverage lost to time over these past 50+ years of fast food service. Inflation, as in big bucks for burgers. A family of five, as in two parents and three children between 8 and 15 years old will easily spend $35.00 - $55.00 for an unrestricted lunch. Add to that the longer and longer wait times and fast food is no longer fast and certainly not cheap.

As time went on and we were able to super size our meals we were also super sizing our clothes and medical bills for overweight issues just as fast. Over time, supported information from professional studies pointed to the construction and content of fast food products - some of this news was not so good for anyone concerned. And now we see and listen to the fast food industry racing to do what they should have done all along. That is simply to put fast and affordable healthy food from a clean environment in a place when and where the consumer would like.

'gjarnoldjr'

One problem is that even if/when McDonald's offers more extensive choices, that doesn't mean that the eating public - especially children - is going to choose them. I go to McDonald's specifically for a hamburger and fries; I'm not looking for happy, healthy choices. And, yeah, the character is scary looking. Not conducive to happy chowing -- healthy foods or not. How do major companies come up with such huge fiascoes? Not enough research? I'd be happy to help them if they ask. ; )

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Naomi K. Shapiro, Strategic Market Communications, Upstream Commerce

Like everyone else here, my advice in this case is ignore it (CSPI always finds something to complain about, and you're only supporting their appearance of legitimacy by responding to them). The more important issue, of course, is deciding where to draw the line between the rantings of a few cranks, and legitimate criticism; McD is a "big boy" with lots of experience handling such things...I have confidence they will be able to decide this for themselves.

'notcom'

Aww, they tried and are trying...but what they really need is a sub-brand if they're thinking of turning "healthy" on us. Because, from a McDonald's brand perspective, there's no way anyone's going to buy into a 'better' Mickey D's. No way. They are what they are what they are.

Think of something new, Oakbrook. You've got a LOT of brain power there!

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Lee Peterson, EVP Creative Services, WD Partners

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