The “Happy Meal” debuted at the fast-food chain McDonald’s in June of 1979 as an advertising medium to promote McDonald’s as a family restaurant, especially one for those with small children. It cost one dollar, and along with the choice of hamburger or cheeseburger, small fry, and small drink, also came, of course, the Happy Meal Toy, which in 1979 meant either a McDoodler stencil, a puzzle book, a McWrist wallet, an ID bracelet or McDonaldland character erasers. Since then, children across the globe have been delighting in this kid-sized meal with a side of fun found in cheap, plastic promotional toys.
But beyond the capability of occupying a child’s interest for a few moments, these Happy Meal Toys have also been known to promote new movies – the first such promotion being the Star Trek Meal for Star Trek: The Motion Picture in December 1979 – prompting adult Star Trek fans to purchase happy meals too in order to receive these collectable items. One of the most popular Happy Meal movie promotions was for the release of 101 Dalmatians in 1996. It featured 101 different Dalmatian toys in enclosed packaging so purchasers did not know which promotional toy they were getting until it was opened. This enticed collectors to make even more purchases. (In may of this year, an 11-year-old boy Luke Underwood sold his 7,000-piece collection of McDonald’s promotional items – toys, boxes, posters and more including the only known complete set of the 101 Dalmatians – at auction for a whopping £8,130 (that’s over $11,000)!)
The Happy Meal Toy movie-promoting trend continues today with the most recent promotion for the upcoming film by James Cameron, Avatar, which opened in theatres worldwide this past Friday. The campaign features six different interactive toys such as Tsu’tey, a character from the film, who lights up when you make a clapping noise. McDonald’s is hoping to boost sales by tying its products to the highly anticipated movie.
Check out McDonald’s Happy Meal commercial featuring the new Avatar toys and stop by your local Mickey D’s to collect them yourself!
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