McDonald’s axes iconic smile from Happy Meal boxes

McDonald’s has removed the smile from its Happy Meal boxes for the first time, in an effort to encourage family conversations about mental health.

Spearheaded by communications agency Ready 10 with Leo Burnett, McDonald’s is marking Mental Health Awareness Week (13 May to 19 May) by teaming up with BBC Children In Need and Manchester United legend Rio Ferdinand to encourage candid conversations about emotional wellbeing.

The 360 degree campaign comprises OOH, social and SFVOD and spotlights parenting influencers providing their own viewpoint on family conversations around conveying emotion.

Ferdinand is drawing on his own personal experiences to highlight to parents and families the importance of having conversations about emotional wellbeing with children.

As part of the campaign launch, a short film directed by Jake Mavity of Rogue Films with a voiceover by Ferdinand showcases children openly discussing their emotions and choosing from a range of expression stickers.


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It comes as research commissioned by McDonald’s reveals that almost half (48%) of UK children feel like they must be happy all the time, while highlighting the emphasis most parents (74%) put on stopping their children from feeling sad.

The updated box shown alongside the sticker set

Families will be able to access a resource hub via a QR code on the limited-edition Happy Meal boxes as well as via McDonald’s website and social media channels.

The boxes will be available nationwide in all McDonald’s restaurants, with stickers showcasing an array of emotions also available in select locations from May 13 until May 19.

McDonald’s head of consumer communications and partnerships Louise Page said: “We’ve been proudly supporting BBC Children In Need for four years now, and we know how important it is to help stimulate open conversations about mental health in families.”

“Through this change to our iconic Happy Meal box, we hope that many more families are encouraged to kick-start positive conversations around children’s emotions and wellbeing.”

Leo Burnett UK executive creative directors Andrew Long and James Millers said: “Happy Meal is all about bringing families together, and to do that it’s important we’re open with all our emotions. By using the most famous children’s meal in the country to deliver the message, we hope this populist campaign will reach and resonate with families across the nation, and foster important conversations about children’s mental health.”

Ready 10 managing partner Kate Addy added that the idea of removing the smiley faces had been a “big ask” but said the agency was “delighted when McDonald’s also saw the potential to positively impact millions of children with this important campaign.”

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