Oh. My. God. This is a disaster. On so many levels. Practically an international incident. Or it would be, if either McDonald’s or French ad agency TBWA were remotely aware there’s a problem. Problems.

You see, the Americanest of brands decided to have TBWA create its new line-up of Happy Meal characters. Not just any ad agency. The #3 agency in France. Despite the fact that it came up with this horror for a major French insurance company:

As a (somewhat) bi-cultural person, I’m gonna tell you what I think happened here.

Maybe, just maybe, because France is McDonald’s’ #2 market in the world (yes, the shame!), Corporate got it in its head that the French have some kind of magic touch. Or maybe their proposal was just the cheapest. Or maybe the Decider is a francophile. Or maybe they thought they were thinking outside the box by choosing France (which is just a different box, and certainly not a better one in this case). Dunno.

Whatever the reason, I see a roomful of frogs at this ad agency brainstorming about Americana while drinking their itsy bitsy coffees. (A sad and hilarious visual.)

Problem is, that’d be just like you trying to brainstorm about Frenchiness while sipping at your Big Gulps. Y’all would come up with the fleur-de-lis (very bad move, symbol of royalty, anti-République Française, majorly frowned upon) and a beret and striped shirt wearing short guy with a mustache carrying a baguette on a bicycle with a cigarette in his mouth and a bottle of wine and bouquet of flowers in the (straw) basket of his bike and the Eiffel Tower in the background. Sound about right?

Do you feel competent to choose images that would resonate with French people? With little French kids?

Me neither. And I’m more plugged in to Frenchiness than most Americans.

And so the ad frogs came up with cowboys and indians, the circus, magic shows, and musical instruments, because that’s us in a nutshell. Wouldn’t you say so?

Let’s start with cowboys and indians. The French love our Wild Wild West the way American francophiles love their Marie Antoinette and all that. And the frogs throw our cowboys and indians around like they own ‘em, as you can see from this French car ad I wrote about a few years ago. Completely oblivious to the oppression, racism and genocide that we are all acutely conscious of since it’s our culture and history, not theirs.

Blame it on Lucky Luke, an iconic Belgian comic book series that’s been around since the 40s:

Obviously these ad agency frogs assumed that we love cowboys and indians too, since we invented them. (<< This is irony, people, don’t get all bent out of shape.)

But it’s been a loooong time since “playing cowboys and indians” was a thing kids did in America. (My kid, born in 1985, played Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters.) Pixar touched a nostalgic nerve with Woody in Toy Story (1995), but even 20 years ago it was a nod to the past! Kids were into that stuff when cowboy and indian TV shows and movies were the rage. More than half a century ago. They stopped being the rage for obvious reasons. But the frogs don’t know that because it’s our culture and not theirs

So not only are these characters archaic, and therefore unlikely to resonate with today’s kids, they’re just wrong. Every character’s body is red because the Happy Meal box is red. But it makes me cringe with the chief character.

The other one is a bad guy. OK, so the Hamburglar was too, but at least he stole hamburgers. This one will obviously steal your pet goldfish (wtf?) and your money (with a fake currency symbol that suggests a Yen with a chromosome disorder). He doesn’t want your crap McBurger.

And these ad frogs should have pulled in at least one native English speaker. “Happy Funny Bandit” no eez eengleesh. But grammar is irrelevant, obviously. And what, putting “happy funny” before “bandit” makes him benign and unthreatening? Besides which he looks neither happy nor funny.

Moving on. Circus. Also archaic. More so than the cowboys. As for clowns, I have one word for you (my emphasis below): coulrophobia:

A study conducted by the University of Sheffield found that the children did not like clown décor in the hospital or physicians’ office settings. The survey was about children’s opinions on décor for an upcoming hospital redesign. Dr Penny Curtis, a researcher, stated “We found that clowns are universally disliked by children. Some found the clown images to be quite frightening and unknowable.”


Human cannonballs? Probably not since my grandmother’s time (born in 1920). Maybe a few still flying around in my mom’s time (born in 1940). Kids are not even going to know what the fuck that thing is and, furthermore, they’ll wonder why somebody is holding a flame to the string in its butt and if that’s why it’s making such a weird face. Play with matches kids, light each other’s butts on fire.

And can you find the human in this picture…?

Next. Magic shows. Except the frogs don’t use the word “magician,” even though that’s the right word. (Again, native speakers can occasionally be useful.)

Anecdote alert: After my parents’ divorce, my dad remarried a woman who found God and got godly to the point of throwing away her daughter’s Disney stories because they had sorcery in them.

A sorcerer is a wizard. Pointy hat. Wand. Et cetera. And with “sorcerer,” McDonald’s will probably lose the entire Bible Belt. What you have in the left picture is a magician. Plus, most Americans associate the words “sorcerer” and “apprentice” when they occur together to this or this. At the very least, the froggy ad people should have googled the names of their characters to see what came up, dontcha think? Or they could have asked a native speaker.

And guess what else? An illusionist is the same thing as a magician! It’s just what they call themselves when they want to charge more for the tickets. And every little kid in America knows the words “illusionist” and “apprentice” too, for that matter. At least maybe the frogs’ll teach ‘em a couple of good words. Just with the wrong meanings…

And a saw, and a body cut in half. Brilliant.

Last but not least, the musical instruments… I just don’t even know what to say here. Anthropomorphizing musical instruments. How exciting does it get? Kids adore instruments! They’re so cute and cuddly, just like Pokémons… And I loved practicing piano when I was 9, 10, 11, 12, 13… Don’t your kids? Unfortunately, for those kids whose parents don’t have the money to give them music lessons (because they don’t offer them to every American kid in school for free like they do here in France), there might be a slight disconnect. And “Ludwig Van” will have meaning for one American kid out of 100,000, I betcha. Probably most parents in America wouldn’t know how to pronounce it. (Do you know who you’re dealing with froggies?)

And, finally, my dear ad frogs, a drum major is not a drum. It is not even a guy holding a drum. It is a dude in a stupid costume waving a stick around. Shoulda googled it.

Speaking of Pokémons, McDonald’s would probably have been much better off going with a Japanese agency… With kids’ trends and tastes being so heavily influenced by Asian culture these days, they would have stood a better chance of getting something kids might actually think was cool.

I just wish I’d seen the brief McD’s gave the agency… Did a bunch of old fogey Deciders at Corporate ask for something that they would have liked in their Happy Meals in 1953? Sure as hell what it seems like.

On the bright side, maybe these awful creatures will scare kids away and ultimately reduce child obesity in America, which can only be a good thing. But they’ll probably just go to Burger King instead.

What do you think? Did I miss anything?

OH. And no female characters.

See bigger versions of the pics on Design Taxi, which is where I saw them.