Most children in America, and even internationally, have joyous memories of frolicking in the McDonald’s playground as they impatiently waited for their guilt-ridden parents to return with a Happy Meal. The mere image Happy Meal’s iconic red box, topped by the golden yellow arched carrying handles, is enough to make any child salivate, let alone the thought of the cheeseburger and fries that it contains.
But McDonald’s has been making slow efforts in recent years to alter that classic memory for future generations, to instead have children anxiously wait for apple slices and reduced-sugar apple juice. In Italy, kids wash down a grilled chicken sandwich with a bottle of water instead of a calorie-ridden Coca Cola.
The McDonald’s transition towards healthier eating options for children has been a gradual one, with their adding of the side option of apple slices instead of French fries in 2011. In 2013, they removed pop from the drink options, according to CNN Money. But, according to the court of public opinion, with McDonald’s Feb. 15 announcement, the fast-food chain went too far.
McDonald’s announced that they would be completely removing the cheeseburger from the Happy Meal menu by the year 2020. With their current initiative, all Happy Meals served in the United States will have less than 600 calories by June.
The announcement gained a huge response on Twitter, with some congratulating them for “responsible marketing” towards children, and others mourning the loss of their classic childhood order.
From a public relations standpoint, though, McDonald’s complete change of their previous brand imaging and shift towards healthier eating was necessary to stay competitive in today’s world, just as it was critical for them to make that change slowly. I mean, rebranding McDonald’s, a notoriously high-calorie, greasy fast-food establishment, into a guilt-free food option was bound to strike some bumps in the road.
As society continues to become more and more fast-paced, parents are only going to continue to search for quick, healthy options to feed their family. McDonald’s was proactive in their adjustment of their menu, though the social media blowback is showing no signs of relenting on the brand.
McDonalds’ public relations team replied in a timely manner to most of the tweets they received, consoling the customers by informing them that the cheeseburger Happy Meal will continue to be available upon request.
McDonalds’ takes a more professional approach to social media compared to other fast-food establishments (cough cough, Wendy’s), and the brand will continue to have to foster open, clear communication with their publics as they undergo such a major transformation.
Grace Hutchison is a sophomore public relations and digital design major at Waynesburg University. She is the Historian for Waynesburg University PRSSA and an Associate Editor for the award-winning Yellow Jacket newspaper. She is also an Account Executive for Red Brick Communications, and is involved in AIGA.