Loyalty to Go

Discussion
May 10, 2004
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By John Hennessy

Question: What loyalty program…


  • Has been around for 25 years,
  • Makes it easy for shoppers to participate,
  • Delivers consistently relevant rewards,
  • Effectively reaches hard to target shoppers,
  • Helps sell hundreds of millions of units a year, and
  • Generates consistent returns for the host marketer and affiliated marketing partners?

(Hint: If you’re over 10, “It’s like totally uncool.”)

Answer: The McDonald’s Happy Meal.

According to Matthew Kauffman, writing April 7th for The Hartford Courant, the program was launched in 1977 when, “…a franchisee in St. Louis asked his advertising agency to come up with a bundled meal – with maybe a cheap toy thrown in – that could be pitched to kids.” That bundled meal idea has helped McDonald’s gain and retain lots of little customers over the last quarter century.

The simplicity of the program makes its achievements easy to overlook. The longevity and success of the program make overlooking it a mistake.

“Happy Meals, selling by the hundreds of millions every year, became an all-purpose juvenile pacifier. And McDonald’s soon hit on a way to keep kids coming back, at a cost of just a few cents’ plastic,” says Kauffmann.

“The earliest Happy Meal toys were decidedly lame – a plastic ID bracelet with stick-on letters, a puzzle lock, a Mr. Spock secret compartment ring.

But then came a 10-year exclusive deal with Disney. Characters from ‘The Little Mermaid,’ ‘Aladdin,’ ‘The Lion King,’ ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ ‘Hercules,’ ‘Mulan,’ ‘Tarzan,’ ‘Monsters Inc.,’ ‘Lilo & Stitch’ and ‘Finding Nemo’ were all miniaturized for Happy Meal Bags.”

And I might add, for late-night imprints on the underside of dad’s foot.

Moderator’s Comment: What can we learn from the success of Happy Meals?

It’s refreshing to be slapped in the face by a loyalty program that really, really works. And Happy Meals are so simple. No cards to issue. No data to collect.
No mailings. The partnership with other marketers delivers benefits to McDonald’s, their partners and their customers. This is a program of underappreciated, rare brilliance.
So while we anguish over what to do to engender greater loyalty among shoppers, are there any Happy Meal-like solutions that are rejected because they’re not complex? Is “simple”
a loyalty program disqualifier? Or is The Happy Meal a lightening strike and the rest of us just need to work harder?

John Hennessy – Moderator

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