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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Post # 72 - McDonald's Adult Movie Happy Meal Toys - 1/17/2010

Dear McDonald’s,

When I was ten, I loved McDonald’s. I’d order the Happy Meal—burger, fries, and a collectible toy. The toy was innocent—this was before you turned the Happy Meal into one giant frigging movie ad.

At that time, there was this movie called “10”. Everybody was talking about it. I was curious—I wanted to see it. Two things stood in my way: 1) The movie was rated R. 2) I was seven years too young. I wouldn’t even think to ask my dad.

Now, I’m a father. I have kids who love McDonald’s. They enjoy the Happy Meal. Recently, you featured toys from the movie Avatar. I saw commercials for the movie. I read reviews. I ended up seeing Avatar. The movie was great, but pretty scary, complicated, and violent for a 6-year-old. I would say the PG-13 rating is pretty accurate.

So why then, would you put toys from a PG-13 movie in a Happy Meal that a six-year-old would consume? Can you appreciate the awkward position into which you placed me?
1) Boy orders Happy Meal.
2) Boy eats Happy Meal.
3) Boy opens toy.
4) Boy asks to see movie.
5) Dad has to be the bad guy and say No.”
"But Dad, it can’t be too bad—there are Avatar toys in the Happy Meals. There were Bee Movie Toys. There were Disney toys. You’re just being mean. You’re a mean dad. You never let me do anything".

Thank you for the wall you’ve started between my son and me.



Date: Mon, 18 Jan 2010 04:11:49 -0600
Subject: Message from McDonald's USA

Hello Jerry:

Thank you for contacting McDonald's to share your comments about our recent AVATAR Happy Meal toys. I'm sorry you were disappointed with the theme of this Happy Meal.

McDonald's is always looking for relevant and engaging properties that kids will enjoy through our Happy Meal experience. Twentieth Century Fox shares McDonald's commitment of bringing quality entertainment through a positive and fun experience that parents can share with their kids. This Happy Meal marks another exciting collaboration between McDonald's Happy Meals and Fox in 2009. Other 2009 Happy Meal properties included "Ice Age 3: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" and "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" Happy Meals.

Before we developed our promotion, we conferred with moms. They told us that they are open to Happy Meals tied to PG-13 movies as long as the toys are fun, age-appropriate, interactive and can stand on their own as cool toys.

Please know that we would never intentionally upset our customers. Your comments are important and have been share with our Marketing Department who will consider your feedback when planning future Happy Meal offers.

Once again, thank you for letting us know how you feel. We hope you'll enjoy our future Happy Meal promotions.

McDonald's Customer Response Center
My response, sent 1/18/2010

I’m sure you shared my opinions with your Marketing folks, and I’m sure that when the next billion dollar Fox contract is passed across the table, your McChief Officers will discretely whisper back and forth “But what about Jerry’s note? Yes, but this is A LOT OF MONEY.” Deal signed.

There’s a poll on about the Avatar Happy Meal controversy. The results are pretty mixed, and some of the responses on the “yes it’s okay” side raise some other parenting questions. It sounds like you’ve been busy on this topic.

I've conferred with a lot of moms on this end who are upset. Maybe it's your mom-selection process. "Mom" is a very broad term. Britney Spears and Leona Helmsley are moms. From your note, it sounds like you screen each movie for the Mom population ahead of time. If so, that’s good in my humble opinion. What kinds of “Moms” did you choose?

Were they moms of 6 year-olds, or moms of 10 year-olds? To me, that’s a huge difference. I’m sure it’s a mix, but the opinions might vary greatly, and your selection process would greatly skew the results, one way or the other.

Were the moms the type that let their young kids run all over the neighborhood until well after dark, when an “Offender Lister” dwells five houses down the street?

Also, why not a few dads? It seems a little unbalanced. Sometimes the Dad has to lay down the law. In a household, it’s nice to have more than one perspective. It might also be nice in a survey.

Did you assess the children, the very product of the moms' years of efforts?

Have you polled kids? I asked my daughter what they think about McDonald’s featuring toys for movies that she can’t see. She said that it’s “unfair”. I asked my son, who has the toy and desperately wants see Avatar. He said “It’s really cool.” To me, that speaks to the marketing folks, both at McDonalds and Fox.

Here’s what I recommend for your selection process. Invite all of the perspective moms to a big cookout, with hot grills, alcohol, and lots of fireworks. Sit back and watch the parents and their kids. Which ones let their kids light the bottle rockets? Which ones let their kids drink the Mike’s Hard Lemonade? Which ones let their kids flip a burger and stick their hand on the grill in doing so? Send all of those home, and then start your poll.

You reference Night at the Museum 2 and Ice Age 3, both PG movies. While these are PG and therefore, open to the same questions, I took my kids to see these. There was no implied premarital sex, no scantily clad blue people, and no massive battle at the end of the movie.

Look, I’m not saying that bad parents take their kids to see PG-13 movies--one day, I may decide to let my under-aged kids watch Avatar. But I’d like it to be on our terms. My point is, things like taking underage kids to movies are judgment calls. What may work for one household, may not work for another. McDonald’s is a prod in this case, pushing the Fox agenda, which is “asses in theatre seats, even if they’re 6.” Maybe next time, throw in a clause that says the movie needs to be age-appropriate.



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  1. Thanks Shondira. This commentary (see link), plus my 6-year-old son and I having the discussion that I described, were the Genesis for this one.

    He still thinks Monsters Inc is a little scary so I'm going to wait a little.

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  3. I love this post. I was actually doing a google search concerning the new Twilight toys that BK is rolling out next week. Ugh. I'm afraid that our concerns are falling on deaf ears. I thoroughly enjoyed your letters. I may have to make one of my own addressed to BK. :)

  4. Wendy-thanks a lot! Glad to see we think alike. A lot of times, it's tongue in cheek. This time, it was for real. If you want me to post yours, I can do that. Otherwise, I might join forces with you and go after the BK lounge. Let me know how it goes!

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