Arguably the cleverest thing that McDonald’s ever did was realising that, when it comes to kids, serving something tasty is only half the battle. Even the most ardent Maccies fan would struggle to argue that there’s any real discernable difference between one chain’s reconstituted beef bits and plastic cheese glue, vs another’s. If you want to stick out - especially to a younger generation - you need something more memorable. This is why the Happy Meal will probably go down in history as one of the most significant inventions of the 20th century. Maybe.
Everyone who was allowed to indulge in the occasional gaudy red mystery box remembers how exciting it was to completely ignore their food and instead pay all their attention to whatever toy lay hidden within. Surprises could range from Pokemon to My Little Pony. The possibilities were endless. Normal meals were never the same. However, in a move sure to spark controversy amongst the dedicated Maccies fanbase, the franchise have recently announced plans to make some significant changes to the treats that helped make their name.
Instead of toys or trinkets, every Happy Meal in New Zealand will now come complete with a copy of one of beloved children’s author Roald Dahl’s famous books. The move, which the business expect to see more 800,000 copies distributed from its restaurants, has been christened the “Happy Meal Readers” programme, and has been instigated in an attempt to improve literacy among New Zealand’s children.
Speaking to the press after the new policy was announced, director of marketing at McDonald's New Zealand, Jo Mitchell, said that, “The Happy Meal Readers programme is all about helping parents to get their children to enjoy reading." She also added that, “The Roald Dahl characters are ones that many parents will have enjoyed growing up, and it's great to play a part in introducing them to a new generation."
During a six week period, Kiwi franchises will replace previously sought-after collectibles with copies of “The BFG”, “Lucky Charlie Bucket”, “Brave Little Sophie”, “Wonderful Willy Wonka”, “Marvellous Miss Honey” and “Matilda”. All books will come complete with illustrations from the legendary Quentin Blake. The initiative comes after recent research revealed that primary school children's literacy levels have decreased significantly in recent years, while around 40% of Kiwi adults struggle to read at a day-to-day functioning level. The hope is that the project can make some positive steps towards changing these shocking statistics.
This isn’t the first time that the business have tried to introduce a more educational aspect to their food. In 2017, executives announced plans to make books available as a standard Happy Meal reward, whilst simultaneously acknowledging the need to move away from the “gendered” toys of the past. Though it remains to be seen whether or not this latest initiative will be successful, it’s clear that the future may look significantly different for everyone’s favourite childhood fast food.