Following the incredible success of their Happy Meals for kids, McDonald’s recently announced the launch of the Happy Meal for adults. What goes into it and does it stand a chance? We’ll tell you.

Rekindling Happy Memories

Happy times come and go, but the best childhood memories stay forever."
- Anonymous

Indeed your hair may turn gray, wrinkles may start appearing around your eyes, and your reflexes may weaken, but there always resides a child in you that may come bounding out with the slightest prodding. That's why when you suddenly discover your first toys, your first school uniform, or your first coloring book in the attic, a smile invariably crosses your lips that momentarily dispels all your sorrows and burdens. Your mind wanders to a time when you were carefree and did not have a worry in the world.

In October this year, fast food giant McDonald's brought back a piece of such nostalgia when it introduced Happy Meals for adults, in collaboration with frontline streetwear brand Cactus Plant Flea Market. On September 23 McDonald's dropped a subtle hint of its plans with the Tweet- "remember u are never too old for a happy meal."

This smart, limited-time marketing gig seems to have been aimed at customers in their 20s, 30s and even early 40s, who've had childhood memories of a McDonald's Happy Meal with its surprise toy.

"Everyone remembers their first Happy Meal as a kid... and the can't-sit-still feeling as you dug in to see what was inside," a McDonald's press release said. "That little red box could turn a regular Tuesday into the best. day. ever. And now, we're reimagining that experience in a whole new way this time, for adults."

For the Uninitiated, What’s a Happy Meal?

The Happy Meal is a complete meal parceled in a little red box. It typically contains a main like a cheeseburger, hamburger, or some Chicken McNuggets; a side dish like slices of apple, French fries, a Go-Gurt tube, or salad; and a drink (milk, soft drink, or juice). In some countries, the Happy Meal also throws in a cheese-grilled sandwich called a Fry Kid, a mini-snack wrap, or pasta.

McDonald's started selling the Happy Meal in the US in 1979 with children as its target. As delicious as the meal itself was, what really clinched the deal for kids was what came along with the meal- a surprise in the form of either a book or a toy. The little red box with its large yellow smile soon became a hit with kids, who waited to discover the toy it held. It is that generation of children -- now grown up -- that McDonald's calls out to.

Happy Meals were later themed, to promote children- or family-focused TV or film series.

What’s in an Adult Happy Meal?

The adult Happy Meal has been dubbed the "Cactus Plant Flea Market Box". It comes with 10 Chicken McNuggets or a Big Mac, soda and fries. (The classic McD's Happy Meal had a smaller menu size.) However, more importantly for the child-adult, it offers one of four collectible toys- the McDonald's mascots Birdie, Grimace, and Hamburglar, or the Cactus Plant Flea Market mascot Cactus Buddy.

The meal boxes are painted in McD's signature bright red and yellow and other bold colors, and feature famous McD's characters like Ronald McDonald, Captain Crook, Mayor McCheese, and Officer Big Mac.

"We're taking one of the most nostalgic McDonald's experiences and literally repackaging it in a new way that's hyper-relevant for our adult fans," said the company's chief marketing officer Tariq Hassan, in a statement.

All the characters of the adult Happy Meal box have been crafted with four eyes. While this initially confused customers, they later realized it was the signature style of Cactus Plant Flea Market characters. Cactus is known for its quirky designs, and a four-eyed face has been one of its signature elements. Its popular T-shirts and bracelets feature a yellow smiley face with four eyes.

This marketing masterstroke also has special merchandise like T-shirts, sweatshirts, and hoodies on offer. Orders have to be placed through the app to stand a chance to win merchandise.

History of the Happy Meal

The origins of the Happy Meal go back to the mid-1970s, when Yolanda Fernandez de Cofino and her husband started operating McDonald's outlets in Guatemala. Noticing they had nothing in particular to offer children, Yolanda came up with the "Menu Ronald", which offered a hamburger, a small sundae, and small fries. The concept impressed the McDonald's bosses, who sought to build on it and tasked entrepreneur Bob Bernstein with the job.

Bernstein understood that if a better dining experience had to be created for families with children, he had to come up with something unique for the kids. A packaged meal prepared entirely for little ones fit the bill perfectly. Special attention was paid to the packaging. Bernstein's team fashioned paper boxes in the shape of lunch pails, with the famous Golden Arches as handles.

The lunchboxes were then given to reputed children's illustrators to decorate the tops and sides with whatever they thought would appeal to kids -- from art to comic strips, jokes to stories of fantasy. These colorful lunchboxes would contain a burger, a cookie packet, small fries, and a surprise gift. A small drink came in tow. And so, the Happy Meal was born.

The Happy Meal was launched in October 1977 in the Kansas City market and later, in other markets of the United States. Bernstein acquired a trademark for his product that year. In 1980, he transferred it to his client McDonald's.

In its earliest avatar, the Happy Meal offered a small range of collectibles that included a McDoodler stencil, a McWrist Wallet, a puzzle lock, an ID bracelet, McDonaldland character erasers, and a spinning top. Since then, the toys have diversified into a mind-boggling assortment of electronic games, Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels cars and trucks, figurines of GI Joe, Captain Kirk, and Ronald McDonald, posters, and toys based on popular cartoon characters.

The Happy Meal was first used to promote children- and family-oriented films in December 1979, with the 'Star Trek Meal' that marketed Star Trek- The Motion Picture.

In 2011, McDonald's sought to prepare healthier Happy Meals with apples and smaller portions of fries. In 2013, the company introduced Fish McBites as an entree, to coincide with Lent.

Happy Meal toys were, however, not free from controversy. The company had to withdraw them in 1982, when they were considered unsuitable for children under the age of three. Ten years later, McDonald's had to recall toys used to promote the film Batman Returns after parents objected to their kids watching the film. Then in 2014, the Happy Meal mascot 'Happy' was deemed too scary to be given to kids.

Not All Are Happy With This Meal

The Happy Meal for adults has attracted a lot of excitement and many stores of the Fast Food company ran out of supplies within days of launching. However, the product soon ran into trouble over pricing.

A CNBC review pointed out that an adult Happy Meal costs $12.89 in New York -- this exceeds the price of a Big Mac meal by $2.60, though the food quantity offered by the two options is similar. The price difference could be attributed to the Happy Meal box and the toy. The upcharge, however, is still large enough to get you an extra McDouble with your order.

Some people also objected to the design of the toys, calling their twin pairs of eyes weird and creepy -- better suited to a Halloween promotion and far from the fun, whimsical figures Happy Meal fans relate to. Moreover, the Cactus Buddy -- the Cactus Plant Flea Market mascot -- evoked no nostalgia for fans, who expected familiar collectibles from childhood.

Who Else is Unhappy

While the sight of eager customers jostling to grab their adult happy meals could be read as a business success story, it took a toll on McDonald's employees, who have been "begging customers" to stop placing orders for adult Happy Meals.

A comment on a subreddit for McDonald's employees read, "first day we had them was the most stressed I've ever been at work. we had a huge storm too and were down 3 people in addition to the 5-6 that had called out. it was exhausting. we ran out the same night but got more today. can not wait for my next shift."

Another subreddit comment said that employees were happy when the supply of toys ran out.

A McDonald's employee pleaded on TikTok, "Bro pls don't order those adult McDonald's happy meals bro I'm begging."

Final Word

McDonald's is the most valuable quick-service restaurant in the global Food Industry, with a brand value of $154.92 billion, according to Statista. It's head and shoulders above the rest, with Starbucks coming in a distant second, with a brand value of $60.26 billion.

McDonald's had hoped its new adult Happy Meal campaign would be a runaway success, but its Target Market is not entirely happy. Notwithstanding the initial craze for the product, people started to spot its weak points. The connection with a streetwear brand that was not part of the original Happy Meal experience seemed to ruin the nostalgia for many.

A Washington Post article summed up the adult Happy Meal experience best. According to it, despite McDonald's best efforts, the adult Happy Meal campaign wasn't able to effect the escape from adulthood that many had hoped for. This toy may soon have to be shelved.