Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Are you old enough to buy that Happy Meal? Part 3

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Part 3 in a series discussing fast-food giant McDonald's decision to feature Happy Meal toys inspired by the PG-13 rated Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Part 1 can be found here and Part 2 can be found here.

In Part 1, I talked about McDonald's use of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest toys and wondered if promoting a PG-13 movie with Happy Meals was really an appropriate move. Considering the mature content contained in PG-13 rated films, I was a bit skeptical.

In Part 2, I realized that to draw any kind of meaningful conclusion as to the appropriateness of McDonald's actions, I would need to know what demographics they're targeting with their Happy and Mighty Kids Meals. My attempts to contact McDonald's via email abjectly failed; their response was slow in coming, and devoid of any useful information, claiming that my question involved "propriety business information." But that's not the end of our story.

By mid-July, despite two emails, I had still received no response from McDonald's. I figured it was high time to take things to the next level - telephone.

After getting some necessary equipment, I was ready to do something I had never done before - I was ready to do some conversation recording.* On July 18th, 2006, I placed the following call to McDonald's corporate headquarters.**

CJ's Interview With McDonald's,
July 18th, 2006***
(click the above to play the audio clip. if you can't see it, or it doesn't work, you can download or stream it from this page. if you have problems, email me.)

*dial tone, dialing*

*phone rings*

AUTOMATED RESPONSE: Hi, thanks for calling McDonald's customer satisfaction department, located in Atlanta, Georgia.

Please select from one of the following two prompts. If you are a McDonald's customer, please press one. If you are a McDonald's restaurant employee calling with a question or comment about your employment, or if you are calling on behalf...

CJ: Well...

AUTOMATED RESPONSE: ...of a McDonald's restaurant employee, please press two.

CJ: I'm a McDonald's employee, but today I'm calling as a customer.

*dials one*

AUTOMATED RESPONSE: For balance inquiries or transaction history for McDonald's Arch Card gift cards, please press one.

CJ: Nope.

AUTOMATED RESPONSE: For all other matters, please press two.

*dials two, rings*

AUTOMATED RESPONSE #2: Your call is important to us and will be recorded for quality assurance. Additionally, this call may be shared with other McDonald's personnel, franchisees and restaurant staff if appropriate. The next available McDonald's customer satisfaction representative will be with you momentarily.

*phone rings*

CJ: Your call may be recorded too.

As yet unidentified representative: Good evening, this is Mallory (sp?).

CJ: Hi, uh, I had a question about McDonald's Happy Meal marketing.

Mallory: Ok.

CJ: I was just curious, uh, what kind of, uh, age demographics do you guys usually target with, uh, your happy meals?

Mallory: They usually, um, for toddlers. Three. Three year old toddlers.

CJ: I'm sorry what was that?

Mallory: Toddlers.

CJ: Toddlers? So what, like, age group is - I'm sorry, like is that...?

Mallory: Three.

CJ: Three year olds? And that's typically for the Happy Meals?

Mallory: Yes.

CJ: And then uh for Mighty Kids Meals is that...?

Mallory: Older. Towards slightly older kids.

CJ: Slightly older kids? So...?

Mallory: Lemme just see what's on *unintelligible* (this?)

CJ: I'm sorry, what was that? I'm having a hard time -

Mallory: I want to check to see just...

CJ: Ok.

Mallory: make sure. Hold on.

CJ: Ok.

*about 24 seconds go by, cut from clip*

Mallory: Ok. Take me a moment to get to that part of my computer here.

CJ: Ok.

*about another 18 seconds go by, cut from clip*

Mallory: Ok the Mighty Kids meal is recommended for 9 to 13 year olds.

CJ: 9 to 13 year olds. And you said the Happy Meal was more geared toward toddlers.

Mallory: Toddlers. Yes.

CJ: Ok.

Mallory: Alright.

CJ: Cool. Thank you very much for your help.

Mallory: Well you're welcome, but for the report of the call, may I just have your first name and zip code please?

CJ: Uh, my first name is *******.

*cut from audio clip to keep bleeping to a minimum*
Mallory: How do you spell that?
CJ: Uh, * * * * * * * *.
Mallory: * * *?
CJ: * * *.
Mallory: * as in *******?
CJ: Yes.
*end cut*

Mallory: Ok. And your zip code, *******?

Not actually *******: Uh, 82070.

Mallory: 82070. Thank you for calling McDonald's.

CJ: Alright. Thanks a lot.

Mallory: You're welcome, bye.

*CJ ends call*
The entire, unedited call took a total time of 3 minutes, 26 seconds. The time I spent talking to Mallory was about only about 2 minutes.


The results of my phone call certainly don't jive with the email I received. For one, it didn't take Mallory the month it took Bonnie Bot to find the information I was looking for, and secondly, targeted age demographics apparently aren't some well-guarded company secret.****

However, the most important thing to gather from this phone call is that McDonald's does indeed seem to be primarily targeting children (well) under the age of 13 with their Happy and Mighty Kids Meals.

What does this all mean? As much as I'd like to wrap this up right now, considering how lengthy this post is already, you'll have to check out Part 4 for the conclusion.

*Thank you Wyoming for one-party consent in conversation recording.

**A note on the recording: know that the audio clip above
is edited. While no content has been changed, I have cut out seconds of silence, censored out my alias (obviously), and taken steps to boost the volume and clarity of the McDonald's representative - in reality she was about impossible to hear (hence all the "What was that?"s). If you doubt that may alterations are faithful to the original conversation, send me an email, and I'd be happy to send you a copy of the original (though my pseudonym will still need to be censored).

***Toll-free at 1-800-244-6227.

****Either that, or Mallory has since been...taken care of.


Anonymous said...

This is a fascinating thread. I think you should take it to CNN or something comparable!!!

Tim Nance said...

I love this. The phone conversation is delightful. Despite the fact that I thought the Jack Sparrow doll was kinda cool, I am very unsastified with McDonald's evil machinations.

Carol said...

I'm lovin' it too!!

Natasha said...

You are impressive!