McDonald’s found millennials’ soft spot: Happy Meal toys.
The fast food giant announced today that it is bringing back more than a dozen toys from the 40-year history of the red-boxed meal for five days in November.
From Nov. 7 to 11, McDonalds restaurants in 90 countries will be selling Happy Meals with 15 toys spanning 1988 to 2013.
In 1979, the first toys were tops and erasers, but by 1988, McDonald’s was giving out bright plastic toys with exuberant characters, many of which became collectibles.
That was the year McDonald’s introduced the personified chicken nuggets that had interchangable parts, much like a Mr. Potato Head. (Like millions of other millennials, Chicken McNuggets were born in 1984, so by 1988, they were just taking off.)
This month, three of those chicken nugget characters — a fireman, a mail carrier and a cowboy — will be in the Surprise Happy Meals, along with a Patti the Platypus Beanie Baby (1997), the Space Jam Bugs Bunny (1996) and a mini Tamagotchi (1998).
Other toys included in the limited-time reboot are Grimace (1990), Power Rangers (1995), My Little Pony (1998), Furby (1999) and Hello Kitty (2013). (You can see some of the toys in a promo video McDonald’s released.)
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They are also rebooting the hamburger that transformers into a robot machine guy — I can remember playing with this one like it was yesterday, and I didn’t even like "Transformers" — and the tiny plastic Happy Meal box that transforms into a friendly dinosaur.
For this millennial, it doesn’t take watching many YouTube videos featuring these old-school toys to travel back in time to those soccer game or gymnastics practice nights when Mom would pull the minivan through the drive-through so we could all grab a bite on the way home. We didn’t have many restaurants in my small town, so McDonald’s was a frequent choice, even though our family didn’t eat out all that often.
My sister and I didn’t officially collect Happy Meal toys, but we certainly coveted them. They became fixtures, first in our toy boxes and then on our bedroom shelves and finally on our car dashboards. I got my drivers license the year the Furby came out, and I can remember keeping McDonald’s toy-sized Beanie Babies in my car until I went to college.
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With the relaunch of these toys, McDonald’s shows that it knows the power of memory — and of modern unboxing videos.
These little toys were always so fun to fidget with, years before fidget spinners and hundreds of YouTube channels dedicated to unpacking small toys. Back in the day, you always knew what the current toy promotion was, but you never knew which of the specific toys you’d get. That’s what made the mini-Beanie Baby craze so fun. (Poor Beanie Babies. Even the small ones aren’t worth much, if anything, today.)
With the toy relaunch, McDonalds is touting the changes its made to the food in the Happy Meal over the years. "Globally, McDonald’s has served more than 6.4 billion fruit, vegetable, low-fat dairy and water options in Happy Meals since 2013," the company shared, via release.
My kids eat Happy Meals every now and then, and they usually pick the milk and apples, in part, because they know they can munch on Mom’s fries. I’ve gone years without eating a McDonald’s meals, most of them in spite, but I can now see a place for McDonald’s in our lives, mostly when we’re making long-distance road trips. But, sometimes, there are also soccer practices to get to and nerves to keep from frazzling.
So, through the drive-through we go. And, 40 years after its debut, everybody is always excited to see what’s in the Happy Meal.