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Why do Pirate & Princess Happy Meals make McDonald's managers want to walk the plank?

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Why do Pirate & Princess Happy Meals make McDonald's managers want to walk the plank?

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Have you heard about these Disney Princess & Pirates of the Caribbean -themed Happy Meals that McDonald's is selling now through April 10th?

Given that this is the first time that Mickey Mouse & Mickey Dee have joined forces since these two mega-corporations decided to end their 10-year, $100 million cross-promotional pact back in the Summer of 2006 ... I thought that it might be interesting to find out how this particular promotion (Which is actually a twofer. Given that this four-week-long Happy Meal campaign is supposed to help get the word about the "Year of a Million Dreams" as well as WDW's Pirate & Princess Party hard-ticket event) has been going.

Copyright 2008 McDonald's & Disney. All Rights Reserved

Which is why I decided to phone a friend-of-a-friend yesterday. No, I can't tell you this gentleman's name. Mostly because I don't want McDonald's Corporate coming down on him like a ton of bricks. But what I can tell you is that this guy rides herd on several restaurants in the Boston area. To be specific, the McDonald's that he's personally in charge of are located in several of Massachusetts' more affluent communities.

Anyway ... When I asked this gent how this most recent Disney-related promotion is going, he said that " ... it's already been a huge pain-in-the-ass."

So what exactly is the problem here? It's not the Happy Meals or the toys themselves that are giving this guy (more importantly, the staff at his restaurants) agita.

In fact, given that it's been more than a year and a half since McDonald's last had a Disney-related promotion, the customers (so far) have been responding strongly to this particular campaign. With little boys eager to get their hands on the "Pirates of the Caribbean" toys ...

Copyright 2008 McDonald's & Disney. All Rights Reserved

Which include a wind-up chattering skull ...

Copyright 2008 McDonald's & Disney. All Rights Reserved

... a miniature pirate ship that fires paper disks ...

Copyright 2008 McDonald's & Disney. All Rights Reserved

... as well as a plastic replica of Captain Jack Sparrow's infamous broken compass.

 Copyright 2008 McDonald's & Disney. All Rights Reserved

And -- from what this guy told me -- little girls are equally eager to get their hands on those Disney Princess-themed Happy Meal toys ...

Copyright 2008 McDonald's & Disney. All Rights Reserved

Which include a Sleeping Beauty-style crown ...

Copyright 2008 McDonald's & Disney. All Rights Reserved

... a Snow White hand mirror

2008 McDonald's & Disney. All Rights Reserved

... as well as a pair of Cinderella going-to-the-ball gloves.

Copyright 2008 McDonald's & Disney. All Rights Reserved

So if the kids are responding enthusiastically to this new Disney-themed Happy Meal campaign, where does the pain-in-the-ass part come in? As this McDonald's management-type explained it to me, it's the parents -- to be specific, the mothers -- who are causing all of the problems.

"For this four-week-long Disney Happy Meal campaign, the crew members who work the counter have been given a very specific script to follow. So that -- if a customer asks for a Happy Meal -- the crew member is then supposed to say in response 'Do you want a Pirate toy or a Princess toy with your meal?'

But once it gets busy, people start to get sloppy. And invariably someone will slip up and accidentally ask a customer if they want a little boy toy or a little girl toy. And that's all it takes to set some of these mothers off. They then begin to lecture our counter staff about gender identification and how dare we stereotype their child. Some of these women will go on for 5 minutes or more about how their daughter can be a pirate if she wants to be. All this fuss and noise over a crummy piece of plastic.

It seems like every night, right in the middle of the dinner rush, we get one of these ladies. That's why I say that this Happy Meal campaign is a pain in my ass. As far as I'm concerned, April 10th can't get here fast enough."

To be fair, it isn't just McDonald's that has to concern itself with gender-related issues and stereotypes these days. Just last week, WDW management reportedly took a look at the new promotional art that the resort's marketing team had created for "Mickey's Pirate & Princess Party" ...

 Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

... and they allegedly decided that this image was ... Well, a little too Snow White. Which is why they then supposedly had this "Pirates & Princess" promotional art retooled so that a little black Belle could now join Mickey, Minnie and Captain Hook at the party.

  Copyright 2008 Disney. All Rights Reserved

Now I know that some of you might think that WDW's marketing department only made this change because they were trying to be PC. But me personally? I think that there's probably a far more cold-blooded reason that Disney decided to change out the little girl in this ad.

I mean, let's remember that the Mouse has been having a very tough time moving tickets to this after-hours event at the Magic Kingdom. So could it be that -- by adding a cute little African American to this piece of promotional art -- Mickey just hopes that they'll be able to persuade a few more black WDW visitors to pony up the $51.07-per-person admission fee for "Mickey's Pirate & Princess Party" ?

Because -- at this point, particularly when it comes to this next set of after-hours events -- it's crucial that Disney sell at least 10,000 tickets to each & every "Mickey's Pirate & Prince Party." Otherwise this new hard ticket won't be able to cover its costs. Which would then most likely force Magic Kingdom management to make "Pirate & Princess" walk the plank.

But what about you folks? Are you amused to hear that there are mothers out there who begin lecturing McDonald's employees on gender indentification if they're asked "Do you want a little boy toy or a little girl toy with your Happy Meal?" Or does it bother you that we live in such hyper-sensitive times that people would actually question why the Walt Disney World Resort would take a little white girl out of their "Mickey's Pirate & Princess Party" promotional art and then replace her with a little black girl?

Your thoughts?

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  • Let's me get this straight...  Mothers who are taking their kids to McD's for a high transfat kiddie meal are upset when the underpaid counter staff isn't up on current language to talk around gender signifiers????  Why are such mothers in McD's in the first place?

  • Interesting article Jim. If I had a mother going off on me I'd be rather blunt. I'd just say that I wasn't thinking about your child, I was thinking about the toy. You can guess that if I was a Disney cast member I'd probably wouldn't last long.

    People are weird. You never know what will set some people off. If someone were to think that I was judging their child I have another way to deal with it. I could say "Lady, I have a huge crowd of people here. I literally do not have the time to judge your child." Then I'd probably be fired LOL!

  • I first responce is ....WHO CARES! I realize Disney and any other company has to pussyfoot around sticky PR & marketing problems, but well....uh, oh yeah!...WHO CARES. Somebody is going to be offended at every move you make and the offended are in the minority in the large scale of things.

    If the special event Party doesn't fly then, oh well, there are a thousand and one other ideas for Disney to try instead of beating a dead horse. Changing of ethnicity in a photo campaign isn't going to save it.

  • The addition of Belle looks weird, just because of her placement.  Why didn't they copy the Snow White pose?  I don't think that it will change things either way.  I can only say that the Disney toys are making me want to go to McDonald's for the first time in years, but people are hypersensitive about lots of things these days, and will be upset about anything.  I'd just make sure that the employees stick with their spiel.

  • I hope that the Pirate and Princess parties do "walk the plank". Charging $50 for extra hours in the Magic Kingdom that used to be free is ridiculous! Yes, the fireworks are amazing, but not $50 amazing. How about keeping the park open past 7pm for regular paying guests?

  • I think the bigger problem with gender ID is the toys themselves. I mean the princess one is more obvious, but I bet there are a lot of girls into Pirates who want those toys.

  • Don't forget that you don't have to eat the heart attack food to get the toy...you can buy them individually.  Delight your children with a McDonalds bag full of toys...minus the trans fat.


  • zzzzzzzzzz... Huh, what! Uuuh nevermind. zzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

  • This story irritates me in so many different ways, I don't even know where to begin.

  • The levels of PC nonsense in our society know no bounds. The fact that there is hypocrisy in it is hardly news, either. But this is not even close to the most eggregious of examples.

    Here's a fun one for consideration and absolutely true. A few years ago one of the major Christian denominations decided to "politically-correct-ize" their standard hymnal, excising all allegedly-offensive items regarding race, sex, physical characteristics, and the rest of the litany of woes of our PC-age.

    So here's what they did in one instance. They changed the name and the lyrics of a pretty popular hymn that happened to have this title and main refrain:

    "Stand up! Stand up for Jesus!"

    WHYFOR did they change it? To attempt not to give offense to paraplegics and other disabled people who could NOT physically stand up!!!

    Putting aside this unintentionally hilarious over-sensitive nonsense, you'd think people involved in faith would understand that the song clearly was saying something about "standing up" in a SPIRITUAL sense--as in "stand up and be counted!" and not actually PHYSICALLY standing up or being able to......but it happened, folks.

    So the fact that yuppie moms are spoiling for a fight at the drop of a gender term at the local Mickey D's is sad, but not a shock. The woods are full of such fools, and the only real cure for Disney or the fast-food folks it partners with is to make all future characters sexuall neutral in name, form, and behavior, I guess, before daring to spin off a burger-meal toy from them.

  • Uh, how is this any different than when McD's offers Hot Wheels vs. Barbie Happy Meals?


    When in Cyberspace visit http://www.plausible-impossible.com

  • These are the same hypersensitive parnets who buy violent video games and elect war mongers to be president.

    Really sensitive aren't they...?

  • What happened to Disney's new "healthy living" youth policy where there were no longer going to target children with these types of meals.  If they insist on pursuing these type of promotions then they should be dropping the gender specific toys anyway and offering something more educational that anyone can enjoy like puzzle games and miniature books.  They can still tie in their latest promotion if they must.  Other fast food chains like Arby's, Long John Silvers and Chik-Fil-A do this very well.  The big three (McD's, BK and Wendy's) do this very poorly which is a shame since they have the most resources and clout.  My 3 year old son would be perfectly content with a series of trading cards featuring the characters from the latest Disney movie or a little book outlining the story of the latest Disney movie.  Just like he is quite content with the apple sause or carrot sticks that most kids meals now offer.  By the way, during a road trip this past weekend we chose to stop at McDonald's and the Happy Meal featured a pirate bandanna!  This seemed like a left over item from a Pirates of Caribbean Happy Meal from a couple years ago.  And the box clearly stated "Disney's" Pirate and Pincess Party and not "Mickey's" Pirate and Princess Party.  Yet another marketing slip-up based on Jim's recent posting on this party's name change.

  • Good point, AB.

  • McDonalds in my area alway ask if it's the happy meal is for a boy or girl.  No boy wants anything to do with a GIRL toy.  Girls on the other hand are frequently happy with either. It's ridiculaous to get irritated at a McDonalds employee for slipping up. Most of them are way underpaid, so they don't get the brightest bulbs out there, and frequently they are so busy that remembering to ask Pirate or Princess when they usually just say boy or girl is bound to happen. As for parents freaking out about it, they need to get a life.   Worry about this stuff at home or school, not over a stupid Happy Meal!  Switching out the girl on the sign? No big deal really. I do think that it has become necessary to think about such things in ads. The ads need to reach a whole lot of people.  And ads that just feature a bunch of white people are likely to present the idea that whatever is being advertised is just for them.  The only time I get a little annoyed is when it has become obvious that a company is pandering to everyone. And this sign is pretty innocent.  A cute little girl in a princess outfit is cute no matter what the race.  Now, if Disney were to start "colorizing" Mickey to fit different races you'd have an issue.

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