Badvertising: McDonald’s Messed-Up Mascot McStake.

McDonald's frightening redesign of their Happy Meal box terrified children but was a hit on social media. Was the toothy, humanoid new mascot an incredible oversight or a stroke of advertising genius?

scary content

In this installment of MarketSmiths’ Badvertising we examine the time that McDonald’s decided to cause nightmares, scare kids, and basically creep everyone out. Sort of. Actually, we’re taking a look at the odd and totally unnecessary redesign of the McDonald’s Happy Meal box. As usual, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!

Meet Happy! He’s Here to Scare the Living Hell Out of Your Kids.

Remember the good old Happy Meal box? A simple red carton with a big happy yellow smile on it. Let’s refresh your memory…

McDonalds 1

Simple. Classic. Elegant, even. A solid case of form meeting function while conveying the primary message: “McDonald’s makes you happy!” There was no reason to change it, I mean, why mess with success? Because they can, that’s why. Take a look at what happened to the Happy Meal box back in 2014, after a group of marketing execs decided to play Dr. Frankenstein and “update the image,” thus creating a new “brand ambassador” they named “Happy.”


Good lord! Just look at this monstrosity! Look at the weird spindly arms, the realistic human mouth – look at those teeth! It’s got HUMAN TEETH! And tonsils! And those eyes… They’re… crazy eyes… Does this thing look “happy” to you? No, it’s a deraged lunatic and it wants to eat your kids! Quick – KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE!! (If you think that this is an exaggerated reaction, check out real kids reacting to Happy!

How could something like this happen? This had to be a bigger snafu than New Coke. Surely Micky D’s has hordes of marketing professionals, focus groups – and just people with two good eyes and a working brain – who could have looked at this, this thing and stopped it in time. But no. The guys over at “Big Burger” actually thought Happy was a positive influence for kids that would “encourage kids to enjoy fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and wholesome beverages such as water or juice.” In-between screams of horror, one supposes.

So, epic, epic fail – right? Maybe. Then again, there’s this thought to consider…

Maybe Happy was really an act of marketing genius. Think about it, what does McDonald’s serve? Burgers, French fries, sodas, McRibs for God’s sake in essence, crap food that’s very bad for you – but the pressure was on for them to offer wholesome alternatives, and so what did they come up with? Happy. Now, we all know that Mickey D’s would dry up and blow away if everyone suddenly began to eat “fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and wholesome beverages such as water or juice.” So maybe they created a mascot – sorry, “brand ambassador”—that was so creepy, and so weird, that it caused every kid who saw it to associate wholesome fare with the Crazy-eyed Tooth Monster and go running for the solace of a Big Mac. Maybe McDonald’s Happy was not the disaster we all thought, but rather a clever “anti-mascot”: reverse psychology as marketing tool!

Or, sadly, maybe it was just a case of trying to get talked about. Consider this:

BurgerBusiness blog states that since the introduction of Happy in 2014, McDonald’s overall online/social media impressions rose by 67% over a four-day period in May, with 25% related directly to Happy, and another 11% to do with Happy Meals. So it didn’t matter one bit that most people hated Happy, it was still a social media hit.

Is McDonald’s happy? They’re lovin’ it.

Jim Yoakum

Jim Yoakum

Jim recalls a priceless piece of advice that an English teacher once gave him. Throwing a dictionary onto his desk he said, “All of the words are in there, Yoakum, just put them in the right order.” Putting the right words in the right order has been Jim’s goal ever since, and he has honed his skills over the years to include award-winning copywriting, the scripting of three produced movies, the authoring of numerous novels and non-fiction books—and even a stint as writing partners with the late Graham Chapman of Monty Python fame. He is also US Curator of Chapman’s archives. To make himself even more insufferable, Jim has also produced comedy CDs and DVDs. While Jim does not lament his misspent youth, playing drums in a rock ‘n’ roll band, he does however wish he had back all of those brain cells that he ruthlessly killed.

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