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posted: 5/26/2014 6:12 AM

McDonald's Happy Meal character spurs alarm

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  • A new McDonald's Corp. character named Happy was intended to promote healthier Happy Meals for kids but has raised some concerns on social media.

      A new McDonald's Corp. character named Happy was intended to promote healthier Happy Meals for kids but has raised some concerns on social media.

 
Bloomberg News

A new McDonald's Corp. character named Happy is inspiring a different emotion among Twitter users: fear.

The box-shaped creature -- with Gumby-like arms, eyes that pop out of the top of his head and a gaping mouth filled with large teeth -- was intended to promote healthier Happy Meals for kids. So far, though, it's mainly drawn alarm and ridicule on social media.

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Since debuting on Twitter in an official McDonald's post yesterday, Happy has elicited responses such as "I think I'm going to have nightmares," "What the f--- is that creature?" and "THAT! is scary!" A video featuring Happy was posted to the McDonald's Facebook page, drawing additional scorn: "Epic fail," "I regret watching this" and "This makes me crave Burger King."

McDonald's hopes the character gets a friendlier reaction from children. The mascot "is about bringing more fun and excitement to kids' meals, including eating wholesome food choices like low-fat yogurt," Oak Brook, Illinois-based McDonald's said in a statement. Happy will encourage kids to eat more fruits and vegetables and to bypass soda in favor of milk, juice or water, the company said.

As America faces an obesity epidemic, the world's largest fast-food chain is trying to improve nutrition, including in the meals it sells to kids. The chain started automatically including apple slices and a smaller portion of french fries in its Happy Meals in 2012. McDonald's plans to offer low-fat yogurt as a children's side dish beginning July 4.

'Broader View'

"Happy is all about encouraging wholesome food choices, like fruit, veggies and low-fat dairy, and does so in a fun, positive, creative way," Kristin Hylek, a McDonald's spokeswoman, said in an email. "Social media is a great place to have a conversation and express an opinion, but not all comments reflect the broader view."

Dawn Jackson Blatner, a Chicago-based registered dietitian nutritionist, likes that McDonald's is trying to make meals healthier. She wonders, though, if Happy is the best embodiment of that message. Though it's good that he's wearing gym shoes, Happy just looks like a box of food, she said.

"It doesn't look like a broccoli head," Blatner said.

Last month, the Ronald McDonald clown mascot got a makeover too, part of a push to attract new customers to the burger chain. The character now dons yellow cargo pants, a red blazer and a striped rugby shirt.

'Be Your Way'

McDonald's isn't alone in making changes. Burger King Worldwide Inc. said yesterday that it's ditching its 40-year-old "Have It Your Way" slogan for the new "Be Your Way" tag line. The move is meant to better connect with consumers worldwide and highlight the chain's customizable sandwiches.

Happy, meanwhile, isn't totally new. The toothy box character was introduced in 2009 in France and has since made its way into other countries in Europe and Latin America, where he "has been loved and well-received by children and families," Hylek said. He'll begin appearing in U.S. McDonald's nationwide on May 23.

Happy and the new yogurt option will "give kids and parents something to look forward to during their next trip to McDonald's," the company said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Leslie Patton in Chicago at lpatton5bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nick Turner at nturner7bloomberg.net John Lear

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