The Happy Meal site carefully adheres to the overall McDonald’s “Forever Young” equation, conforming to the brand aspiration to be “familiar and new…traditional and contemporary…predictable and surprising…timeless and timely,” as well as “appeal to kids and adults.” And staying “forever young” involves a little bit of levity, not in-depth conversations about calorie counts.
The site’s aquamarine hue serves as the underlay for all the interactive trappings, screensaver downloads, and IM icons, while the curved navigation bar on the top of the page highlights tabs that speak to the main responsibilities of being a child: “Create” (origami, paper-art, and face-mask projects), “Play” (games and challenges), “Discover” (tongue twisters, trivia, and more than a few “Coming Soon” icons), and “Toys” (featuring the novelty you’ll currently find buried in Happy Meal bags).
The juxtaposition of familiar and new, traditional and contemporary, is evident as soon as you log on: Your eye is drawn immediately to the familiar golden-arches logo positioned squarely in the middle of the home page, and there is a good-sized image of a sample Happy Meal on the bottom to whet your kid’s appetite, virtual and actual. However, the rest of the site boasts a colorful, cheery design that’s more similar to the type of look you’ll find on the Webkinz or Pokémon websites.
The site reaches out to adults with the still-in-progress “Parents Retreat” section, which currently sports an online safety quiz, advice on how to deal with bullying, and a link back to the "Food, Nutrition, and Fitness" section on the main McDonald’s site. Future enhancements to the parental slice of the Happy Meal pie include a planned overview of your child’s online profile so you can gauge what their interests are through the games they play and certificates they win (one hopes you’d be in tune with your child’s interests without the help of the Happy Meal website, but every little bit counts, I guess).
The Happy Meal has been co-branded with movies or TV shows since its first promotion with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. (That’s almost a dozen Star Trek movies ago.) The site makes sure to prominently feature complementary items for both current and upcoming co-branded media: At press time, the Happy Meal show-du-jour was Nickelodeon’s El Tigre. The site offered a clip of the El Tigre Happy Meal commercial (in case you haven’t already been bombarded by it on the boob tube), an El Tigre screensaver, printable El Tigre coloring pages, and El Tigre IM icons.
Pommes Instead of Pommes de Terre?
As the Seminole County incident illustrated, parents have become increasingly concerned about food choices. Toward that end, fast-food restaurants have started offering more nutritious alternatives, especially when it comes to kids’ meals. As part of McDonald’s so-called Balanced Lifestyles commitment, the healthier, improved Happy Meal lets kids (or, more likely, their parents) substitute milk or juice for soda, or apple “dippers” (peeled apple slices) for fries.
In its present state, the site doesn’t offer too much in the way of health and fitness tips that will reinforce this balanced-lifestyles message to kids as they’re crunching away on their courtesy-of-McDonald’s carrot sticks. Click on the Happy Meal Choices icon at the bottom of the page, and you’ll be whisked back to the McDonald’s main site, where there’s a short paragraph about Happy Meal choices. Once you’re on the main site, there’s also a "Food, Nutrition and Fitness" section that offers nutritional information and food-quality info.
Cynical viewers could argue that if McDonald’s were truly concerned with advocating wholesome habits, there would be dedicated, easily accessible areas on the Happy Meal site with fitness tips, nutritional content, and perhaps even a healthy-living mascot (if the powers-that-be were able to come up with Grimace, Mayor McCheese, and Hamburglar, surely someone in the creative department can concoct a similarly themed character that sings the praises of calcium and fiber content over cholesterol and trans fats). The brand’s efforts are also somewhat negated by the link to the Mighty Kids Meal on the bottom of the page (basically supersized kids’ meals, made to “please” older children who supposedly need bigger portions).
After all, keeping kids healthy will bring as much of a smile to parents’ faces as the bonus toys brings to their kids’.