In 1977, McDonald’s was king of all it surveyed (sorry, Burger King, for the unfortunate analogy). The company knew that kids loved their restaurants, but looked for a way to lure parents, especially parents who were raising kids, and whose disposable income was limited.
The solution, conceived by a McDonald’s advertising manager in St. Louis, was a meal just for kids. The Happy Meal, as it quickly became known, set parents back only a buck, yet provided what kids wanted — a hamburger or cheeseburger, small fries, 12 oz. drink, and cookies. A toy became part of the HM at a later date.
In the headquarters building of fast food chains across America, you’ll see a conference room with dented walls. Those were put there by the companies’ executives banging their head wondering why they didn’t think of the idea first. Now, every restaurant that welcomes kids also offers a special meal. The food today is a bit healthier, with fruit often substituted for french fries, and milk or juice instead of a soft drink.
And the toys have become more sophisticated, as Happy Meals now are often advertising vehicles tied in to current family-friendly films…