McDonald's Happy Has A Sad Debut

“Terrifying.” “Hideous.” “McScary.” “Creepy.” Those are some of the modifiers being attached to McDonald’s new mascot for its Happy Meal on social media and in newspaper ledes this morning. He’s a toothy critter with a red complexion and Sponge Bob torso who looks like he might be on the lam from Legoland.

Yesterday, “McDonald’s tweeted a photo of the new Happy Meal mascot, saying: ‘Say hello to our newest friend, Happy!,’” reports Patrick M. Sheridan on CNNMoney. “But within hours, the new square-faced red and yellow mascot with big white teeth was scaring away people on Twitter and had become the butt of a joke.”

To wit, this online headline from the U.K’s Daily Mail: “‘A deterrent to both appetite and sleep’: McDonald's unveils its new mascot for the US ... a creepy red box with big teeth that has left customers cold.”

McDonald’s official release had a decidedly different take on the debut, as you might imagine, introducing Happy as “a new animated Happy Meal character that brings fun and excitement to kids’ meals while also serving as an ambassador for balanced and wholesome eating. Happy will be introduced nationwide May 23, and will encourage kids to enjoy fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and wholesome beverages such as water or juice.”

But some critics weren’t buying that either.

Chicago-based registered dietitian nutritionist Dawn Jackson Blatner “likes that McDonald’s is trying to make meals healthier,” reports Bloomberg’s Leslie Patton. “She wonders, though, if Happy is the best embodiment of that message. Though it’s good that he’s wearing gym shoes, Happy just looks like a box of food, she said.

“‘It doesn’t look like a broccoli head.’” 

“What you see with this new character is McDonald's continuing to market an unhealthy brand to kids,” Sara Deon, director of the Value the Meal campaign at Corporate Accountability International, tells the Wall Street Journal. “The so-called healthier options really do little for families or folks looking for healthy food. They're really just P.R. gimmicks to drive traffic into the stores and sell more burgers.”

No surprise there, of course, but there are plenty of questions as to whether Happy will succeed in that mission. Meanwhile, McDonald’s spokespeople were busy defending the critter yesterday.

“In a statement, a McDonald's spokeswoman said ‘social media is a great place to have a conversation and express an opinion, but not all comments reflect the broader view,” The Los Angeles Times’ Ricardo Lopez writes in a story that retweets observations such as “I didn't want to sleep tonight” and “That is not right with God."

Happy “will appear in a TV ad hitting the U.S. on Friday,” Julie Wenger, senior director of U.S. marketing for McDonald's tells Mashable’s Todd Wasserman, and  “will also be hard to miss at McDonald's locations, where he will grace point-of-purchase displays.”

“You will see Ronald and him in our TV communications and in our restaurants and packaging and all of our communications.” But, Wenger tells Wasserman, “We don't know if he'll be back in social media. His first selfie didn't convey his personality.”

Another McDonald’s spokeswoman, Lisa McComb, noted in an email to Reuters’ Mary Wisniewski Happy has been “loved and well-received by children and families in Latin America and Europe” since 2009. Indeed, he was born in France, reports The Verge’s Casey Newton, “where he was apparently well received.”

Chacun à son goût.

“While USA Today reports that the box is supposed to entice children into eating healthy, that smile really only makes it look like he wants to eat the children,” writes Ashlee Kieler in the introduction to a poll on Consumerist that asks “Which Fast Food Mascot Is The Creepiest?” 

Happy (8.89%) was actually running a distant fourth among the 10 choices when we checked early this morning, with the Old Ronald McDonald (25.74%) battling it out with the The Quiznos Sponge Monkey (23.89%) and The Burger King (22.22%).

If there’s any consolation to be had in Oak Brook, Ill., amidst the incoming firestorm this morning, the Old Ronald McDonald — originated by beloved weatherman and Bozo the Clown Willard Scott in 1963  — recently got a “chic” new look with a red blazer, yellow cargo pants and a slick hair-do. Most important, “his vibe is less creepy,” Bruce Horvitz opined in USA Today

Perhaps they’ll be saying the same thing about Happy 50 years down the road. In the meantime, you can check out #McScary on Twitter for the latest put-downs.

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