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Why McDonald’s Is Loving the Creepy New Mascot Everybody’s Bashing

3 minute read

McDonald’s doesn’t seem to mind that the masses have taken to Twitter to bash the new mascot, Happy, as creepy, even terrifying. The social media reaction probably makes McDonald’s, well, pretty happy.

The introduction of Happy as McDonald’s new “Happy Meal brand ambassador” was widely mocked in a dizzying number of one-liners on Twitter. “It’s the meal that eats you,” one much-re-Tweeted message read. The character, basically a Happy Meal come to life, with bug eyes, wiry arms and legs, and human-like teeth and tongue, was deemed to be the stuff of nightmares. By extension, so was the whole Happy campaign, the consensus seemed to declare.

From the get-go, though, McDonald’s didn’t seem to mind the criticism. In fact, the company relished the attention, responding with Happy Tweets of its own. One featured a handful of Happys at “Happy Headquarters” in front of a laptop, reading the social media comments. “Terrifying. Nightmarish. Cute?” the caption reads. “Someone things we’re CUTE!”

McDonald’s knows how this game is played, releasing a statement in response to the haters explaining, “Social media is a great place to have a conversation and express an opinion, but not all comments reflect the broader view.”

Some marketing pros agree. To many consumers out there, McDonald’s is not merely a brand, but “a piñata,” Steve Connelly, of the Boston ad agency Connelly Partners said via e-mail. There are plenty of people who will “keep bashing the hell out of them every chance you get because they stand for evil and making the nation fat. Sometimes I think if McDonald’s came up with a cure for cancer they would get bashed for it.”

As for the new character Happy, well, first of all, he (she? it?) isn’t really new. The mascot was introduced in France in 2009, has been featured in tons of TV commercials abroad, where, presumably, children aren’t awake all night out of fear of being eaten by a Happy Meal.

“It’s a box with a smiley face on it…geez,” said Connelly. As for the legions taking shots at McDonald’s and Happy? “People have too much time on their hands.”

Most importantly, as the BurgerBusiness blog first pointed out, McDonald’s appears to be having the last laugh, because “Happy” has been a huge hit in terms of drawing attention in the U.S. According to the research firm Kontera, the introduction of Happy hiked McDonald’s overall online/social media impressions by 67% from May 17-18 to May 19-20, and an impressive 25% of the content over May19-20 was related to Happy. Another 11% had to do with Happy Meals.

McDonald’s would probably prefer glowing praise to mockery, but it’ll take the latter over apathy and being ignored in the chaotic, noisy news marketplace any day. “Every time someone trolls the new mascot,” USA Today explained, referring to Kontera’s data, “they’re basically giving McDonald’s free advertising.”

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