In the last days of the 1970s, kids were given an unique extra when they ordered a meal at McDonald’s – the Happy Meal.
Debuting in June 1979, the Happy Meal was a drink, fries, hamburger, cookies and a toy – oh joy!
This simple marketing tool became a sought-after must-have for kids – especially when they knew the latest blockbuster movie or popular tv show was including their characters in the meals.
In Guatemala, a McDonald’s manager came up with the Ronald Menu, focusing on items for kids. Coming to the attention of McDonald’s, they asked their advertising guy Bob Bernstein to come up with an idea for kids meals.
He realized most kids ate from their parents’ meals and came up with the idea to package the kids meals in a box – a separate item just for them that initially resembled a lunch pail. Test marketed in Kansas City in 1977, the Happy Meal went national in the US in 1979.
In Canada, Quebec offered the Joyeux Festin (Happy Feast) while around the world, the different countries varied the contents and name in their native tongues – in Spanish Happy Meal became Cajita Feliz – Happy Little Box while in Brazil it is called McLanche Feliz – Happy McSnack in Portuguese.
In Japan, McDonald’s named the children’s meals Okosama Lunch, then Okosama Set and finally Happy Set. Okosama is the formal word in Japanese for child.
No matter where you went, the Happy Meal was a popular option – and the toys became collectibles, since only available via McDonald’s for a limited time, usually at the beginning of a tv season or in the first weeks of release for a film.
Countries varied the contents and toys were always bonus, but to this day, its the Happy Meal that still attracts kids attention.