The agency declined comment and referred calls to McDonald's. A
spokeswoman for McDonald's did not provide details and said it was
"premature to discuss a Happy Meals campaign."
The campaign is believed to be the first major TV push for Happy
Meals since the chain began revamping the offering last fall with apple
slices, fewer fries and a low-fat dairy option. The result is a 20%
reduction in calories in what the chain calls its most popular
It appears to be a follow-up to a nutrition declaration the
chain made around the time it unveiled the new kids' meal. In a
July press release the company said it would "raise nutrition
awareness among children and parents through national marketing
initiatives … promote nutrition messages in 100% of its
national kids' communications, including merchandising,
advertising, digital and the Happy Meal packaging … [and]
provide funding for grassroots community nutrition-awareness
The chain's commitment to nutrition also includes an average
15% cut in sodium across the national menu by 2015, and a promise
to reduce added sugars, saturated fat and calories through varied
portion sizes and reformulations by 2020.
In January, McDonald's launched Champions of Play, a global
campaign about kids' wellness, as part of its marketing as the
official restaurant for the Olympics. The campaign includes special
Happy Meals packaging and in-store promotions, as well as a website
featuring Olympic athletes.
Ronald McDonald, the chain's almost-50-something mascot
associated with McDonald's kids'
marketing, did not have the strongest presence in the advertising
in recent years, appearing instead on the web and delivering
messages about safety, nutrition and physical activity. One of his
bigger roles in the last decade has been for the Ronald McDonald
But the clown reappeared in April 2011, when the chain launched
a campaign with him as the centerpiece, encouraging kids to visit
its Happy Meals website. It's not clear, however, whether Ronald
will be featured in the new Happy Meals advertising.
McDonald's has long been advertising for Happy Meals with movie
tie-ins, and in 2010 the chain launched ads with characters such as
Even so, the chain has decreased its overall spending on Happy
Meals. McDonald's spent about $92 million on the product in 2011 --
close to 10% of its total U.S. measured-media budget but down from
$115.2 million in 2010. By far the nation's top restaurant ad
spender, McDonald's spent $963 million on measured media in 2011,
according to Kantar, up 8.6% from 2010.
It's sure that critics will be watching the new advertising.
McDonald's has long been under fire for Happy Meals, Ronald
McDonald and marketing to children. In December 2010,
consumer-advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public
Interest filed a class-action lawsuit against the chain
with the aim of stopping McDonald's use of toys to market directly
It also faced a ban in cities such as San Francisco, which last
year passed a law preventing restaurants from giving away toys with
kids' meals. McDonald's circumvented the measure by offering the
toys for purchase.
The restaurant industry on the whole has been working to promote
nutrition for kids. Last year, the National Restaurant Association,
in conjunction with Healthy Dining, launched KidsLiveWell, a voluntary initiative to spur chains to offer and
promote healthier kids-meal options. Chains such as Burger King and
Chili's jumped onboard, but McDonald's did not join the initiative.
It announced its new Happy Meals less than two weeks later.