Scars of the 90’s: Happy Meal Toys

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For many of us who grew up in the 80’s there was nothing more exciting than a trip to McDonald’s. Even then we knew it wasn’t because of the food- we knew it was crap and that more than likely our parents took us there just so we would play contentedly in the PlayPlace for about 25 minutes or so.

If you were fortunate enough to live near one with a ball pit, you had hit the jackpot.

As the opening video demonstrates, we were fed a consistent dose of marketing from McDonald’s all through the 80’s. We found nothing at all distressing about a creepy clown speaking in a calming and nostalgic voice to anthropomorphized chicken by-products, reminiscing about their growth into present nugget form which only anticipates their eventual consumption.

The only thing we cared about was THE TOYS.

Granted, most of the time the toy in the Happy Meal was cheap and lame, and you knew it. But it didn’t matter- it was enough to provide a distraction for the length of the car ride home.

Personally, I was excited enough about the box that the Hamburglar cookies came in.

Yes, admit it. You were excited too.

In the 90’s things changed.

All of a sudden Happy Meal toys were THE THING. It wasn’t that the quality had increased significantly or that the toys were that much different. In fact, about the only thing that changed was that each promotion had more options for toys. A movie promotion might have 6-8 characters, each its own separate toy that you would randomly get in each Happy Meal. Some even fit together into some final conglomeration.

Well, of course you HAD to collect them all, which meant more trips to McDonald’s which meant more Happy Meals purchased.

It was actually quite the brilliant marketing technique.

We were even led to think that buckets were awesome.

Kids collecting cheap toys is one thing. The odd thing is that for some inexplicable reason the collections were presumed to be valuable. People would actually purchase these collections for FAR more than they were worth. People without kids would buy Happy Meals to try and get all the toys, and some even resorted to buying the toys directly from their local McDonald’s.

It was sort of like the nation had lost its collective mind.

Things got to the point where McDonald’s adopted a policy in which the toys would be auctioned off after the promotion had ended.

Um, what? Auctioning plastic toys that even kids don’t want anymore?

Yes. Welcome to the 90’s.

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Jason Watson

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