Sunday, October 4, 2009


We all remember the days growing up filled with McDonald’s Happy Meals and Disney Movies. Some of my fondest memories were days where we would be picked up from school by my dad and then meet my mom for dinner near her office. While I’m sure my parents would have preferred to any other type of food fare, they always obliged to our request and shouts of “McDonalds”. And there we would sit with our greasy food, around a not so clean table, discussing the events of the day. The only thing that further contributed to the happiness would of course be a Happy Meal Toy. Then we would go home and gather in the living room to watch the newest Disney video on VHS. Those are the memories that make up childhood for most of us.

Robert McChesney’s “The Media System Goes Global” discusses the rise and impact of global media partnerships, one of these being the 10 year partnership between two of the worlds giants – Disney and McDonalds. When consuming happy meals and playing with happy meal toys as children it never occurred to us to think of the logistics behind such a merger. Although the partnership was not in existence until 1996 and we were past happy meals by then, the story still lends itself to a great case study. As McChesney states, “Disney and McDonald’s [had] a 10 year exclusive partnership to promote each other’s products in 109 nations, a relationship so detailed that the Wall Street Journal termed the two firms McDisney”. This means that between 1996 and 2006, all the Happy Meal toys were promotions of Disney movies and other Disney products. However, this seemingly genius partnership was not to be renewed when it came to a close in 2006.

The last Disney movies to be promoted with Happy Meal toys were Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. Although the 10 year deal probably benefited both companies, there were negative implications. Due to the language of the contract, McDonald’s advertising budget was largely spoken for in terms of happy meals. Confined specifically to Disney promotions, McDonald’s was stuck often promoting a movie that was not successful, such as Treasure Planet. While McDonalds was forced to promote such failures, its competitors such as Burger King could promote other studio’s films, such as DreamWorks widely popular Shrek series (Fast Food Chain has Beef with Disney). Disney also had issues with the partnership. As McDonalds faced increasing complaints about the unhealthy nature of its food, Disney wanted to distance itself from the often criticized fast food giant. The connection between Disney’s movies and McDonald’s happy meals may not have been a big issue if the food in the happy meals kids begged for was healthy (Disney Dumps McDonalds).

Disney is characterized as a part of “The Holy Trinity” by McChesney, its holdings including ABC, ESPN, Miramax, resorts, and much more. Its widely popular movies have developed young teenage stars who appeal to kids around the world. On the surface, such a popular culture firm should have been successful with the most recognized golden arches in the world. However, the negative implications as mentioned earlier led to conflicts of interest, and ultimately the decision by both partners to not renew the agreement for another ten years. The fairy tale of mergers did not end in happily ever after. But, both firms continue separately to encourage children around the globe to find their own happily ever after with their happy meal toys and animated movies. (Disney Dumps McDonalds) (Fast Food Chain has Beef with Disney)


  1. I read your blog post and it reminded of my childhood, it is true that most of us have memories of eating at McDonald's, collecting Happy Meal toys, and enjoying the greasy unhealthy food! I remember that on long road tripes you could always see the two golden arches from a distance, towering over a long stretch of road and many trees, and my parents could assume where my sister and I wanted to eat. Also, watching Disney movies was a must, especially the Disney classics like: Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast.

    While reading McChesney's article the McDisney partnership sparked my interest, I did not know that there was an actual contract that limited McDonald's promotion of Happy Meal toys to Disney movies and characters. And although the partnership was not renewed after the ten year contract, I think they both benefited from the partnership while it lasted. McDonald's probably sold an enormous amount of Happy Meals because kids wanted the toys inside and Disney movies and characters benefited from a lot of promotion everyone would know what was Disney's newest movie because of the Happy Meal toy promotion. And it is true in the end, both companies appeal to children throughout the generations and keep trying to put smiles on their faces.

  2. I found your post to be very interesting. I was surprised to read about this 10-year partnership between McDonalds and Disney. They both probably made out very well from this deal, even though they were not happy with the partnership. It would be interesting to find how their profits have been affected due to the termination of this partnership. In other news, LEGO and Disney have recently formed a partnership that will allow LEGO to create sets based on popular Disney and Pixar properties. I guess its like momma always says, “there are other fish in the sea,” especially when it comes to corporate interests.