McDonald’s Needs a Talking To

Poke around a blog or two or fifty on the subject of McDonald’s Happy Meals and you will encounter a litany of complaints about the phrasing employees use to determine which of the two available toys to drop into the bag.

“Boy or girl toy?”

At first glance–and second and third and fourth–it’s sexist.  And there is not a sentence or word I can offer here that will add anything new to this discussion.  I don’t disagree.  And asking whether the customer wants the “Star Wars toy” or the “My Little Pony toy” seems to be the simple and obvious answer.

But then that wouldn’t garner much attention, would it?

Four words have essentially equated to volumes of free publicity.

And lest you think that folks will boycott McDonald’s over four words, I’d argue they probably won’t.  Convenience has trumped principle many times for far more egregious offenses; and, let’s face it, every time anyone even mentions “McDonald’s,” something inside our collective physiology begins to crave it–the salt, the fat, all those calories. So, when a blogger or any other writer writes 500 words about the blatant sexism at work with the Happy Meal, I wonder if it actually has the opposite of its intended effect–luring readers in, if not today, then later in the week when they (we) are all a bit more tired, a bit less apt to want to cook.

McDonald’s didn’t get where they are by being unaware.  They know this offends–but not enough to cross any lines that would impact business.  And when people are offended, they will say something.  And in business, when they’re talking about you, well, then, you’re all set.

And maybe that’s the conversation I’ll have with my children . . . less about gender stereotypes and more about marketing and advertising–but also about negative attention.  As a parent, I have many times reminded my children that it is better to seek positive attention for positive behavior than negative attention for negative.

If McDonald’s had a mom, I bet she’d be having the same conversation with her little business right about now.


8 thoughts on “McDonald’s Needs a Talking To

  1. As nice as it may be to be called a “Boy toy,” or “Girl toy,” and one of the advice columns suggested one of a couple use the term to introduce the other using those terms, as “boyfriend” and “Steady” was too dated, I support the wise guy approach and retort with, “How about one of each as we’re not sure yet.”
    Or, “Would you like to check?”
    Of course, they are oblivious to anything other than the expected answer, but anything that might make them get off script would be kewl.

  2. As someone with close ties to this company (at the store level) I can tell you that employees are initially trained to ask “Star Wars toy” or “Build-A-Bear toy” or whatever the current promotion is, but many employees change this to “boy or girl toy” because of the wording on the till screen. Follow-up coaching is rarely given on this issue though 😦

  3. i get this…but honestly there is a whole lot more wrong with the happy meal (i.e. what’s in the stuff they call food that they market to our children) than this question…the toy (and however you get it) is the best part of that meal by far in my opinion. just what i think.

  4. I always felt funny saying “boy’s toy”. Especially when the kids say “I want a boy’s toy”. I also agree the food at McDonald’s is not great, but then the food anywhere other than home or in a specialty natural foods restaurant is not great either, and now with GMOs, it is ALL suspect. Of course we have to eat something, and when I am pressed for time and on the run, I do choose a Happy Meal (with apple slices and plain milk) and I don’t feel like it is the worst thing in the world occasionally. Now if there was somewhere I could drive thru and get organically fed, humanely killed, chicken tenders (with whole wheat breadcrumbs of course!) and sliced tomatoes or cucumbers, with whole organic milk, then I would TOTALLY go there. Hey! New business idea!

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