The New McDonald's Mascot Terrified His Way Into Our Minds

This little cartoon box made people feel the feelings this week. "Happy" is so hated and feared that everyone is talking about him.
(McDonald's)

Today the new McDonald's Happy Meal mascot, Happy, officially enters the U.S. market. Born in France in 2009, McDonald's says the anthropomorphized box "brings fun and excitement to kids’ meals, while also serving as an ambassador for balanced and wholesome eating." Despite purportedly noble aspirations, though, Happy is entering the country bruised and beleaguered.

On Monday, U.S. McDonald's shared a preview of the character on Twitter. The now-infamous proclamation seemed simple enough. "Say hello to our newest friend, Happy!" The real impetus of the widespread fallout to the unveiling was the following image of Happy, which was attached to the tweet:

McDonald's

As you might imagine, the people of the United States said more than hello to Happy.

Just reading the first 15 responses on Twitter, of thousands: "That! Is Scary!" "What the fuck is that creature?" "Goodbye"; "Oh, this was a mistake, McDonald's"; "Why is he in pain?" "This looks like the monster that killed my uncle"; "A McStake"; "This looks so scary"; "The new Happy Meal box has two divots on top for holding human eyeballs"; "Oh God, who thought this was a good idea?" "Terrifying"; "Oh fuck no"; "That is not right with God"; "Ah"; "It's the meal that eats you."

A McDonald's spokeswoman responded in a statement with dry confidence: "Not all comments reflect the broader view." Roughly translated, haters are going to hate. 

As the people hated, the people shared Happy's image and talked of him. The Internet has no soul, and the only way to weather its hostility is to be strong. If you can turn that hostility in your favor, you do it. McDonald's tweeted this sanguine, unapologetic image the next day:

Image tweeted by McDonald's on May 20 in response to the response to Happy's unveiling

So, you see, Happy relishes hatred. It's what he lives for. It makes him stronger. Now there are two of him. Great work, Twitter.

After taking France, Happy spread to some other parts of Europe and South America before his U.S. unveiling this week. What McDonald's knows is that the country is going to love Happy. They do not need to apologize for a botched introduction. It probably was actually not a botched introduction at all, but a solid exercise in trolling. By Tuesday morning, at least 20 news outlets had reported on Happy and our terror. At Bloomberg: "McDonald’s Happy Meal Character Scares Social-Media Users." At Time: "McDonald’s Just Introduced an Absolutely Terrifying New Happy Meal Mascot." At The Washington Post: "The Terrifying McDonald’s Happy Meal Mascot Is a Hideous Demon Creature." And so on. If he were nice-looking, no one would've cared, except to indict McDonald's for marketing to kids.

In order for him to spread organically, McDonald's wanted us to feel like we were better than Happy; that we'd outsmarted their marketing. So they put out this knowingly terrifying image. It has the air of a D-list celebrity leaking a homely sex tape. The box-man's giant, realistic teeth upset us, and his prominent lower eyelids inspired distrust, even fear. But he made us feel something, and that's what matters.

Presented by

James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He writes the health column for the monthly magazine and hosts the video series If Our Bodies Could Talk.

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