April 05, 2013

Happy Meal characters stereotype Indians

McDonald’s Launches New Whacky ‘Happy Meal’ Characters

By Dorothy TanThe creation and promotion of fun, children-friendly mascots—such as Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar—is one of the keys to the enduring success of McDonald’s.

To update the fast food giant’s cast of beloved characters, Paris-based agency TBWA has crafted a new collection of cute personalities for McDonald’s latest ‘Happy Meal’ campaign.

The agency creatively re-imagines the classic Happy Meal box and transforms it into several eye-catching and whacky 3D characters, including a cowboy, bandit, clown and illusionist.

The campaign not only showcases what a little creative thinking can produce, but also encourages kids to apply their imagination—see more images of the new characters below:

Some comments on this posting:I like the Indian Chief. How about Oriental Female Driver, or Starving Negro Slave or something similarly appropriate?

I agree...for some reason in our country we feel we can pick at this group of people. I don't appreciate it, descending from a tribe. Generalizing all Natives are the same. Why continue to perpetuate this? Yeah it may be a toy, but it is the only race I see listed here. Even if it wasn't the only race, would that still make it right?

You have got to be f#@king kidding me. Why does every corporation think it is okay to put a headdress and warpaint on any stupid piece of junk they want? Also, I love the way this "article" is written, praising the "creativity" of people who designed this garbage. Guess what, it is not creative, it is racist, and this company is in turn promoting stereotypical racist imagery to children. Here is a heads up for McDonald's, start writing the apology now, because you are going to start getting some serious feedback. Believe it or not, Native Americans still very much exist, and we are tired of this crap!

McDonald's "new idea" to introduce racism to children in the acceptable form of a "toy"! :# what the hell is WRONG with people? The other toys are of jobs (clowns, cowboy, piano player, etc.) ONLY THE ONE of "Indians"? Why not one for a "Happy Slave" eating a McChicken? Damn!
Another article provides some context:

Native Happy Meal Characters: Now You See Them, Now You Don't

By Vincent SchillingIn what might just be a blip on the cultural radar, a pair of cartoonish Native American characters tied to a McDonald's Happy Meal campaign appeared on a designer's portfolio site--but were taken down.

The characters looked to be part of the cast of HappyStudio.com, a website connected to McDonald's and aimed at kids. At HappyStudio, children create personal avatars that inhabit a world that is also home to Happy Meal boxes with arms, legs and personalities (cowboy, scientist, pirate, etc.) that interact in games and videos.

The website DesignTaxi posted a selection of characters yesterday it described as an "update"--a new kid-friendly face of McDonald's, perhaps replacing the familiar Hamburglar, Grimace and Mayor McCheese. The characters and concept originated with the Paris-based firm TBWA; DesignTaxi's images came from the portfolio of the creative team of Alice Mounoury and Danae Bilheude, and were rendered by artist Libellule.
And:Since the comments were posted, Mounoury and Bilheude have removed the American Indian characters from their portfolio sites, although it is unclear whether the removal was a direct result of the complaints.

Is is also unknown whether McDonald's plans, or ever planned, to use the two Native characters. Several attempts were made to reach Mounoury and Bilheude as well as the TBWA Agency, but all requests have remained unanswered.

American Indian Happy Meal Characters: McDonald's Responds

By Vincent SchillingAccording to Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, the Vice President of Global External Communications of the McDonald's Corporation, the characters were not ever destined to be a Happy Meal toy and immediate steps were taken to remove the image from restaurants in France.

In a direct letter to an ICTMN correspondent, Barker Sa Shekhem wrote:

I want to begin by emphasizing that we at McDonald’s value and respect all cultures—we have millions of customers and employees who represent diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

This is what we’ve learned: Basically, the picture in question was developed in France to be used as part of a children's card game featuring 30 characters. It was not a Happy Meal toy. Unfortunately the sensitivities around the use of this image within the French market were not fully appreciated at the time. The picture has not been used outside of France.

We have asked that immediate steps are taken to withdraw this picture from any restaurants in France. In addition we have required that our agency makes sure it is no longer available in any of our online channels. We apologize to those who were offended by this picture.
Comment:  These characters have the same problems as Indian mascots, of course. A one-dimensional image of Indians...situated in the distant past...conflating a racial type with occupations...etc.

Also note the misleading passive tense in the McDonald's response. The characters "were developed" and "were used" by someone, says the spokeswoman, but "we" didn't know what "they" were doing. But the restaurants in question belonged to McDonald's. Someone at McDonald's approved the characters' use in McDonald's operations.

So the ad agency is blame, but so is McDonald's. Let's not let the apology obscure that fact. McDonald's did the right thing, but only after it did the wrong thing.

For more on stereotypical toys, see "Feather Tell-A-Tale" and "The Americana Indian."

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