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When McDonald’s announced the launch of its brand new, limited edition, adult-themed Happy Meals, customers quickly expressed how much they lovin’ it. Maybe a little too much.

The Adult Happy Meals come in newly redesigned boxes, but they feature the food that customers are likely to expect—Big Macs, Chicken McNuggets, fries, and a drink—plus, as most Americans remember from their childhoods, a precious plastic toy. The toys offer a clear nod to nostalgia, featuring updated takes on old favorite characters like Grimace, Birdie, and the Hamburglar. But they also introduce a new character, Cactus Buddy, a wobbly-smiled, yellow humanoid wearing a McDonald’s-branded t-shirt and cap (but, alas, no pants).

The whole package was created in collaboration with Cactus Plant Flea Market, a streetwear and sneaker brand known for having partnered in the past Nike on apparel and shoes. It also has created merchandise for many popular musicians, including Lil Wayne, Kid Cudi, and N.E.R.D.

The CPFM x Mickey D’s collaboration has been a massive hit. Foot traffic to McDonald’s restaurants increased by 37 percent on the week of the launch, compared with the same period in the previous year. The Adult Happy Meal is reportedly McDonald’s most successful collaboration in history—bigger, even, than its 2020 promotion of the Travis Scott Meal that led to a nationwide Quarter Pounder shortage.

In this case though, it’s not the Quarter Pounders that are in short supply and great demand. It’s the toys, which are appear on secondary markets like eBay for some astonishing prices—as much as $30,000 apiece after Happy Meals sold old, in rapid fashion, in some locations. One eBay user listed a package of unopened toys for $300,0000 (it sold for a best offer, so we do not know the final sale price). Some McDonald’s employees in turn have taken to Reddit, scribing long threads of complaints about how busy their stores are, and how hard their jobs have become, since the introduction of the Adult Happy Meals. It just goes to show that one person’s Happy Meal can be another’s unhappiness.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What makes the Adult Happy Meal so appealing? How does collaborating with Cactus Plant Flea Market contribute to this success?
  2. What should McDonald’s try for its next collaboration?
  3. Could other fast food chains launch similar nostalgia-rooted collaborations?

Source: Peter Adams, “Deja Vu? McDonald’s Adult Happy Meals Raise Specter of Past Promos Run Awry,” Marketing Dive, October 10, 2022; Autumn Swiers, “The Striking Impact Adult Happy Meals Had on McDonald’s Foot Traffic,” Tasting Table, October 22, 2022; Nicolas Vega, “McDonald’s Limited-Edition Adult Happy Meal Toys Are Listed for as Much as $300,000 on eBay,” CNBC, October 19, 2022; Nicolas Vega, “I Tried McDonald’s New Adult Happy Meal—Here’s Why I Won’t Be Getting It Again,” CNBC, October 5, 2022; “McDonald’s USA X Cactus Plant Flea Market,” PR Newswire, September 27, 2022; “Cactus Plant Flea Market: Demystifying the Secretive Streetwear Brand,” Sneaker Freaker, June 10, 2022; Ross Dwyer, “Cactus Plant Flea Market and Nike Ready Boisterous, Bootleg-Inspired Apparel Collection,” Hypebeast, October 21, 2022; Alicia Kelso, “New Traffic Data Suggests McDonald’s Cactus Plant Flea Market Collaboration Is the Chain’s Most Successful to Date,” Nation’s Restaurant News, October 13, 2022; YeEun Kim, “McDonald’s Adult Happy Meal Toys Resell for $300K USD,” hypebae.com, October 20, 2022; “New Adult Happy-Meals Are Killing Me,” reddit.com, October 3, 2022; Shawn Cooke, “Despite Sellouts, There’s Still Mass Interest in McDonald’s Adult Happy Meals,” Civic Science, October 19, 2022.