Geek Dave boldly goes into McDonald's...
In 1979 Star Trek became the very first movie promotional tie-in to feature in a McDonald's Happy Meal. But how did it achieve this accolade?
The production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture did not go as smoothly as Paramount had hoped. By February 1979 the film was massively over budget and nowhere near completed, and so the Vice-president of Marketing and Licensing, Dawn Steel, was asked to find alternative revenue streams to help cover the ballooning production costs.
Inspired by George Lucas' canny ability to market the bejesus out of Star Wars, Steel organised a merchandising and licensing fund drive, which included in a highly imaginative presentation to multiple corporations, held in the largest theater on the Paramount lot.
Timing was perfect, as, after successfully testing the children's meal in select areas, McDonald's were planning on rolling out their Happy Meal nationwide in the Summer of 1979. Originally the meal came with a cheap generic product, like a frisbee or a ball, but after viewing the Star Trek presentation McDonald’s saw the opportunity to maximise the launch of the Happy Meal and capitalise on 'pester power'. The idea was that children would watch a film or show and then beg their parents to rush out and buy a Happy Meal based on it. And it worked.
Available from December 1979, McDonald's ran several thirty second
television commercials, promoting their Star Trek: The Motion Picture Happy Meals...
Another one was presented by an actor dressed as a Klingon speaking in, what was
supposed to be, Klingonese,
with a voice-over "translator" endorsing the Happy Meal...
Consisting of a
regular hamburger, fries, soft drink, a McDonaldland cookie sampler,
and a Star Trek prize, McDonald's sunk $20million into
the television ads to promote their 50 million Star Trek Happy Meal
boxes. Giving Paramount and the movie itself some additional 'free' exposure.
The boxes themselves featured Star Trek themed artwork, puzzles, jokes and crudely drawn comic strips. No actual images from the film were used as none were available - being that the film was not completed until a day before the premiere - and they came in six different variants (officially, the count is five, but there were two versions of the box featuring Spock).
Of course, what every kid goes straight for is the 'prize'. The available selection included Star Trek rings, iron on transfers, bracelets, a Star Trek game, and a Video Communicator device could be used to feed one of five comic strips through to watch the story unfold...
So next time you're in McDonald's and the advertising for the latest Happy Meal is right there in-your-face remember it was Star Trek that kicked it all off. Just another first from a franchise that is so firmly rooted into our culture that it's become part of everyday life.
Let's sign off with a joke straight from the Happy Meal box...
Q. What's most important when transporting "Bones"?
A. To get the real McCoy.
What? Not even a chuckle? I tell ya, in 1979 that one killed!
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