McDonald’s Corp.’s attempt to launch a new mascot for its famous Happy Meals is getting a rough ride from many who say the toothy creature looks more threatening than friendly.
The mascot, named Happy, looks like a cartoon cross between a red fast-food package, with gangly limbs, and a boxy garbage receptacle with exceptional dental work and bugged out eyes. McDonald’s famed Golden Arches serve as the mascot’s eyebrows – or more accurately, an orange unibrow – and its feet are adorned with giant black sneakers.
Happy is scheduled to be introduced on May 23 in the U.S.; the company said it has no plans to introduce it in Canada.
The fast-food juggernaut said the character “brings fun and excitement to kids’ meals while also serving as an ambassador for balanced and wholesome eating.” Happy, which will be officially launched Friday, will also “encourage kids to enjoy fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and wholesome beverages such as water or juice,” the company added.
That has not been the reaction among many customers and people on social media, where the mascot has faced a barrage of ridicule.
“When I first saw it, I thought it looked ridiculous,” said Bianca Phan, 16, as she ate at at McDonald’s in downtown Toronto on Tuesday. “I thought Ronald McDonald was the mascot.”
Her friend, 15-year old Alexandra Viveiros, added: “I think it looks funny.”
Twitter, the electronic land of instant snark and hyperbole, has been decidedly un-Happy: “i can’t stop laughing this is the scariest thing i’ve ever seen,” wrote @daenerysslays, a user with 669 followers.
McDonald’s needs Happy to pull through. The company’s profit slipped 5 per cent in the first quarter of 2014 and same store sales in the U.S. were off by 1.7 per cent. Many heath conscious parents have snubbed the restaurant, but Happy is meant to highlight the company’s less popular, but more nutritious, choices for kids. If Happy can draw in children, the company hopes their parents will be forced to the tills.
Introducing a new logo or mascot is risky for all companies and Happy is off to a rocky start.
“It doesn’t look all that cute and adorable and friendly,” said Brock Smith, a marketing professor at the University of Victoria’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business. “Yes, the mouth is big. Yes, there are a lot of teeth.”
But the professor conceded he was decades older than Happy’s target audience and kids might go for the new mascot.
McDonald’s recently gave Ronald McDonald a makeover and the company would not have introduced Happy without extensive testing, Mr. Smith said. The smiling box debuted in France in 2009 and has since made it to Latin America and other European countries. Happy’s voice and personality, he said, will be influential in winning over kids.
Not everyone views the mascot as frightful. An eight-year-old girl in Toronto cheered when shown the mascot on Tuesday. Why? “Because it is smiling” at her, she said. Her father, Kel Morrissey, said Happy would be a great advertisement for a dental office, all while buying into the health pitch. “I think with the teeth thing, it is a health image,” he said. “It is kind of, hey, feed me. I’m healthy.”
Happy is scheduled to be introduced on May 23 in the U.S.; the company has not said when it will appear in Canada.