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McDonald's Celebrates Happy Meal's 40th Anniversary by Bringing Back Retro Toys

November 5, 2019 | Joseph Myers

With the breakneck speed at which life zooms, “adulting” has come to take up the majority of our days. But, every now and then, something comes along to give the kid inside each of us a moment to exult. McDonald’s is readying to play our benefactor November 7-11, with the fast food chain set to bring back retro toys celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Happy Meal.

Children of the 1980s and ’90s can rejoice when purchasing the limited-edition items for their kids or themselves and recall easier times when seeing the latest merch version of a Chicken McNugget took away the sting of the eventual accumulation of adult responsibilities. While 15 toys will hit the global market, U.S.-based Happy Meal consumers can pick up two additional toys, with a 1997-issued “101 Dalmatians” and a 2002-produced Sorcerer’s Apprentice Mickey making us extra giddy. Those bring back some fond memories, but we find our hearts set on the trio of McNugget goodies, all from 1988.

Billed as the Surprise Happy Meal, the combination of provisions and diversions is honoring a creation that debuted in June 1979 and that has come to be synonymous with young consumers’ visits to McDonald’s. The eatery is dealing with some uncomfortable press as this promotion nears its start, so as more intense issues make their way into discussions among the company’s executives, McDonald’s can try to promote the power of innocence and the enthusiasm for collecting limited-edition finds that the Surprise Happy Meal represents.

We have become regulars at covering fast food companies’ moves to release products that build brand awareness, with the majority of them focusing on apparel that relies upon novelty, such as the Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket hat. Here, McDonald’s is striving to strengthen its future by looking to the past, with the Happy Meal toys that youths and adults will pine for having hit the market between 1988 and 2013.

At a time when even yesterday seems so long ago in the business sense, any establishment’s decision to go retro could pose risks, but McDonald’s is no neophyte and knows that no matter how attached children have become to technology, there should always be a place for ordinary toys in their lives. Since, as we noted earlier, we just know that some adults are going to want the Happy Meal contents, too, the chain is tapping into the interests of more than one generation, which should prove a nice boost for McDonald’s fourth-quarter sales.

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