McDonald's: 25 Years of Happiness
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Holmes Report

McDonald's: 25 Years of Happiness

McDonald’s Happy Meals are loved by kids of all ages. However, an all-new Happy Meal program is introduced in restaurants every four weeks. While kids see this as an exciting new offering each month, the media tends to see it as simply another Happy Meal.

Paul Holmes

McDonald’s Happy Meals are loved by kids of all ages. However, an all-new Happy Meal program is introduced in restaurants every four weeks. While kids see this as an exciting new offering each month, the media tends to see it as simply another Happy Meal. The challenge to create buzz and excitement over the entire program, and to generate new media interest for six to eight months in order to make each individual premium a success, is unique.

In effect, the publicity effort is much like having a movie with a new sequel released every month. JSH&A’s success would be measured against our highly successful PR campaign in 2003, which focused on the Summer of Fun including much-loved toys such as Nemo, and was being challenged to raise the bar higher and increase comparable sales figures for Happy Meals in 2004. Though a unifying theme for the 2004 Happy Meal calendar, the 25 Years of Happiness milestone also provided its own challenges. Anniversaries inspire reflection on the past. Our goal was to leverage the anniversary to drive traffic to stores today and build buzz and awareness for the current Happy Meal line-up.

JSH&A and McDonald’s Corporation needed to create a national outreach program that would: leverage the 25th Anniversary milestone to build awareness and ultimately sales for the 2004 Happy Meal events, generate consumer and media awareness and excitement for summer Happy Meal events, drive traffic to McDonald’s restaurants and build nostalgia and brand loyalty.

JSH&A experience in 2003 showed us the necessity to “group” the monthly Happy Meal introductions under a common theme. The theme can be introduced early in the year and the new installments teased to build a sense of anticipation. In essence, Happy Meals are promoted with a “rolling launch” publicity campaign.

JSH&A recommended celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Happy Meal for a unique focus in 2004. While the client did not want to commit a substantial budget to this milestone (2005 will observe the 50th anniversary of McDonald’s Restaurants), we would promote the nostalgia of 25 years of past Happy Meals and at the same time introduce new Happy Meals toys and product innovation. This was a perfect opportunity to build nostalgia with parents who loved the Happy Meal when they were young, but also to position the Happy Meal as a source of innovative toys that capture the interest of a whole new generation of children.

The 25 Years of Happiness campaign took the opportunity to celebrate decades of memorable Happy Meals and created a platform to launch exciting things to come. New Happy Meal introductions were positioned under the Happy Birthday Happy Meal banner, with every month another opportunity for a celebration and new “birthday gifts” for McDonald’s young customers.

To create anticipation, Happy Birthday Happy Meal press kits were sent out early to target long leads, including historic information, photos, a brief list of the 2004 featured toys, and a tease of the official birthday surprise toy to be announced in July. Each individual toy launch was also supported with the distribution of press releases, toy samples, and color photos to top media including restaurant trades and business along with toy, youth, feature, mom, and general consumer, and collector media in print, broadcast and online.

To extend the momentum, McDonald’s kept the Happy Birthday Happy Meal Ty Teenie Beanie Ronaldland Characters top secret teasing the surprise Happy Meal until the July introduction when the top-secret Happy Meal characters were unveiled on national television. The 2004 25 Years of Happiness campaign generated consumer and media awareness of the year’s Happy Meals and built nostalgia and brand loyalty among moms and kids. The program was a success as it earned over 445 million media impressions and generated a large increase in Happy Meal sales.  

Traditional media outreach began with distribution of a newswire and electronic press release announcing McDonald’s Happy Birthday Happy Meals all-star line-up. The Happy Birthday Happy Meals release promoted the celebration as McDonald’s Happy Meal birthday party where guests receive all the gifts. The messaging focused on the year’s premiums as the best of the best in honor of the milestone.

The release provided a list of the hot new toys that would be included in the lineup including The Dog, ESPN Handheld games, Neopets, Tony Hawk Boom Boom HuckJam Tour, with a special request from Ronald McDonald himself to keep July’s Happy Birthday premium a secret. Target media was pitched with the business story as well as the nostalgia and collectible story and interviews were coordinated with McDonald’s spokespeople and avid Happy Meal collectors.

Each individual premium launch was further supported by distributing specially designed birthday boxes to top media that included a new toy release, images and samples of the new toys, along with a “25 Years of Happy Meals Fascinating Facts” backgrounder. JSH&A developed unique key messages for each of the premiums, but stayed true to the underlying concept of celebrating the history and tradition of the Happy Meal and years of play associated with the toys. 25th Birthday story angles were rich and fun: history, toy trivia, creating a Happy Meal, toys over time, hot trends, technology, innovation and retro.

Media outreach efforts also included the creation of b-roll to promote the celebration nationally, and extensive media relations follow up. Additional promotional efforts coordinated with McDonald’s toy partners for inclusion on their websites and coordinating media contacts and cross-promotional activities. Online opportunities included a sweepstakes to win a trip for four to attend a Happy Meal birthday party in New York City, a sweepstakes to win a complete set of al Happy Meal 2004 birthday toys, and four E-Bay auctions of special sets of toys plus a family trip to each of the events, with proceeds benefiting the local Ronald McDonald house.

The marketing department decided to include a special 25th anniversary logo on Happy Meal boxes and in commercials beginning in April to coincide with the publicity introduction. Field guidelines encouraged local McDonald’s restaurants to celebrate with a Happy Birthday Happy Meal party on July 23rd, the day of the introduction of the secret Happy Birthday Ty Teenie Beanie Babies, and an internal birthday party was held at McDonald’s national marketing meeting.

McDonald’s 25 Years of Happiness campaign made headlines in print, broadcast, and online media throughout the country, generating more than 445 million media impressions – and still counting. Print media coverage included The Associated Press, Time Magazine, New York Times, Newsday, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, The Dallas Morning News, Palm Beach Post, Atlanta Journal Constitution, PR Week, and many others.

Broadcast hits included but were not limited to FOX and Friends, CNN, the local ABC, NBC, CBS, and/or WB affiliates in key markets including Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Online hits included Yahoo!Finance,,, CBS, and, among others. In addition to building awareness and anticipation, nostalgia and brand loyalty, McDonald’s reported a significant increase in Happy Meal sales, surpassing the high 2003 benchmark, with the marketing department crediting much of the sales increase to the 25 Years of Happiness campaign.

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