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McDonald's Biggest Success This Year Was Also Its Biggest Failure

Forbes calls out the fast-food chain for underestimating the power of the Adult Happy Meal.
FACT CHECKED BY Justine Goodman

McDonald's has been around for over 60 years and has seen a lot of fun and wildly popular promotions, but in 2022, one such promotion managed to be both one of the most successful and disappointing at the same time: the Adult Happy Meal.

In a story that looks at what some of the biggest brands did wrong this year, Forbes called out McDonald's for being wildly underprepared for such a big stunt and suggested ways the company could learn from the chaos. How did one of McDonald's biggest successes turn into one of its biggest failures?

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In late September, the chain put out a press release attempting to explain what the Adult Happy Meal would entail. The release would be a first-of-its-kind collaboration with the fashion brand Cactus Plant Flea Market. It would feature a redesigned box, a resurrection of its iconic characters, and two meal choices: a Big Mac or Chicken McNuggets.

First off, many fans didn't quite see the connection between the obscure fashion brand and the Golden Arches that lent a set of four eyes to some of its favorite mascots including Grimace, the Hamburglar, and Birdie, plus a new guy dubbed Cactus Buddy. The two sets of eyes were part of Cactus Plant Flea Market's branding, but unless a person was familiar with the fashion brand the connection was obscure—and a little creepy.

mcdonald's cactus plant flea market box
Courtesy of McDonald's

Despite the questionable marketing, the Adult Happy Meal sold out in less than a week, leading to shortages of some menu items, confusion in stores, and many angry fans who could not get their hands on them. The huge increase in foot traffic alone, as reported by Restaurant Business, put a huge strain on workers who could not keep the boxes in stock for long. Some even went so far as to plead on social media that people stop looking for Adult Happy Meals.

In fact, there was such a demand that the toys from the meals and the merchandise ended up landing on eBay, in some cases, for amounts as high as $300,000.

For such a large-scale promotion, Forbes expressed that the company was underprepared and should have, at the very least, beefed up staffing to meet the demand for the nostalgic treats. "If McDonald's chooses another biggie co-branded launch in 2023, it hopefully will apply the lessons learned (including staffing up)," wrote Forbes. In the end, a company used to feeding frenzies—a similar situation happened with the Pokemon Happy Meals in 2021—should have seen this one coming.

Meaghan Cameron
Meaghan Cameron is Deputy Editor of Restaurants at Eat This, Not That! Read more about Meaghan