Digital gifts are as fun as real Happy Meal toys for kids, says agency.
McDonald's Europe partnered with digital agency Fuel to extend European children's experiences of Happy Meals into the digital realm. Since launching in August 2011, Happy Studio site has nearly 2 million registered users.
The site is ad-free; however, Happy Studio still includes some recognizable McDonald’s elements. The free site is aimed at children 4 to 8 years old, the ones who usually eat the well-known kids meal in a box.
According to Fuel, Happy Studio is based on more than a year of research into the development of a second gift program that found digital toys are as compelling as the actual toys included in Happy Meals. Happy Studio features familiar characters like Shrek and Puss in Boots, and includes around 30 educational games and activities. Fuel said content development was guided by child development experts.
To use the site, children must first choose an avatar, then select a nickname based on three pre-set options like, "Queen," and "Sparkly." Then, users can customize the appearance of their avatars, choosing a shirt, trousers, shoes, skin tone, hair and eyes. Finally, users must register with a parent's email address and a password. Providing age information is optional.
Parents in turn receive an email to activate accounts for their kids. In doing so, parents must agree to Terms and Conditions that specify McDonald's operates Happy Studio and notes McDonald's has made every effort to ensure it is safe for children.
"There are absolutely no food or other product promotions on Happy Studio," continues the message. It also says McDonald's may sometimes put up links or advertisements for other websites, products and services that are only accessible by adults.
Parents can monitor all activities on a "Grown Up Dashboard," which displays information on what games and activities children are playing, their strengths and interests, how long they have spent using the site and what gifts the child has made.
"McDonald's really is looking to be a very responsible corporate marketer," said Jeff Doiron, Fuel's SVP of business development. "Part of that is a conscious decision not to include any food or McDonald's products in Happy Studio. You may see fruit, vegetables and water from time to time because we want to get a positive message to kids and are looking at things in a balanced way."
But the site also prominently displays McDonald's iconic Golden Arches above the Happy Studio logo and it includes a character that resembles a Happy Meal box. What's more, an introductory video includes an avatar wearing a shirt with the McDonald's logo and a hat in the shape of a Happy Meal box.
Doiron said the site generally follows along with whatever Happy Meal theme is taking place in Europe. Of the 41 Happy Studio options, the main difference is language, with slight variations depending on country-specific initiatives. That included a promotion tied to the HarperCollins childrens book series "Mudpuddle Farm," which was specific to the U.K.
"They'll do ten different Happy Meals across Europe in a given year, so that's the content we'll develop," Doiron added.
Fuel creates branded experiences for kids, tweens, teens and young adults. It has been working with McDonald's since 2007, when it created the first digital Happy Meal, said Doiron.
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Lisa Lacy is senior staff writer at ClickZ. In addition to ClickZ, her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Luxury Spot, LearnVest, MarthaStewart.com, GoodHousekeeping.com, amNewYork, and The Wall Street Journal. She's a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism.
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