Looking Back At The MCDONALD'S STAR TREK: TMP HAPPY MEAL - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Geek Dave wants large fries though.

It's been 40 years since both McDonald's rolled out their Happy Meal and Star Trek: The Motion Picture debuted in cinemas. The two of them are, surprisingly, linked.

The McDonald's Happy Meal has its origins Guatemala, where a husband and wife team who operated a McDonald's franchise began offering the "Menu Ronald" (Ronald menu), which offered a hamburger, small fries and a small sundae to help mothers feed their children more effectively while at McDonald's restaurants. The concept was eventually brought to the attention of McDonald's management in Chicago who, along with many other management teams, had looking for ways to create a better dining experience for families with kids.

The task of developing this kid-friendly option was given to advertising executive Bob Bernstein. He had often noticed his young son at the breakfast table poring over the various items on cereal boxes and thought, "Why not do that for McDonald's? The package is the key!" Bernstein then called in his creative team and had them mock up some paperboard boxes fashioned to resemble lunch pails with the McDonald's Golden Arches for handles. They called in nationally known children's illustrators and offered them the blank slate of filling the box's sides and tops with their own colorful ideas from art to jokes to games to comic strips to stories to fantasy: whatever they thought might appeal to kids, but at least eight items per box. Inside the box would be a burger, small fries and a packet of cookies. A small drink would accompany these items. Before all this, McDonald's had regularly promoted their "Treat of the Week", where a different toy was available each week free on request for children who ate there. This toy was inserted in to the box, and viola, you got yourself a meal fit for a kid!

Bernstein gave the box the name of 'Happy Meal' and after a successfully introduction in the Kansas City market in October 1977, it was rolled out to all McDonald's in the Summer of 1979.

When the Happy Meal was launched in 1979 the toys were a McDoodle stencil, a McWrist wallet, a spinning top, an ID bracelet, and a puzzle lock. All top quality stuff, but nothing like what was to follow...

December 1979 would see the very first Star Trek cinematic adventure open worldwide. It had been a decade since the television series was cancelled, but interest in Star Trek had remained high, thanks to syndication, countless re-runs and an animated spin-off. Several aborted attempts at bringing Star Trek back had faltered, but finally the original crew of the USS Enterprise were back. Bigger and bolder than ever.

Production, though, had been a long bumpy ride, and in February 1979 it had run into serious financial difficulties. The movie had been budgeted $8 million, it was already well over this when Paramount's Vice-president of Marketing and Licensing, Dawn Steel, was charged with creating a new revenue stream to help cover the ballooning production costs. Steel organised a merchandising and licensing fund drive, which climaxed in a highly imaginative presentation that was met with enthusiasm by the attending prospective licensee companies, which included McDonald's.

McDonald's, along with Coca-Cola, signed-up. Nowadays this is, of course, nothing new at all. Licensing deals and such, but Star Trek: The Motion Picture was one of the very first times that a non-Disney motion picture production was involved in a tie-in merchandising campaign with products from the the food industry.

Starting its run in December 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the first movie themed Happy Meal McDonald's had offered. To promote the event, McDonald's spent $20 million on a television commercial campaign...

The Klingon was supposed to be speaking Klingonese, but at the time the language consisted only of a few exclamations (it took until Star Trek III: The Search for Spock before the language was properly developed). The voice-over "translator" explained that he was endorsing the Happy Meal, which consisted of a regular hamburger, fries, soft drink, a McDonaldland cookie sampler, and a Star Trek prize. The box was adorned with Star Trek comic strips.

Between December 1979 and February 1980, five different Happy Meal boxes were released (there were actually two slightly different versions of the box featuring Spock, so unofficially its six boxes), each featuring movie-inspired artwork, puzzles, and a short comic strip, created by artist Ron Villani, depicting a key action scene in the film.

Each box had two jokes on it, including, for example:
Q. What's most important when transporting "Bones"?
A. To get the real McCoy. 

As for the toys, or 'prizes' as McDonald's loved to call them. Well there were "secret compartment" rings (molded with images of Kirk, Spock and the movie Starfleet insignia), iron-on sheets featuring movie-inspired graphics and characters, toy versions of the USS Enterprise, K't'inga-class cruiser, long range shuttle, drydock, air tram, orbital office complex, travel pod, and the Epsilon IX station, the board game Star Trek: Starfleet, and a black or gray plastic "video communicator" that, when assembled, could be used to scroll the comic strip that was included...

Each installment of the comic strip was eight illustrated panels in length and concluded with "Thus ends another chapter in the saga of the U.S.S. Enterprise."

The tie-in paid off, as a reported 50 million Star Trek Happy Meal boxes were purchased during the promotion. That's a lot of burgers!

So next time you pop into your local McDonald's and notice that current movie being used to sell their latest Happy Meal, give a thought for the one that started it all. Star Trek. Boldly going were no movie tie-in had gone before.

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