National / International News

Meet Happy! The unsettling new Happy Meal mascot

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-20 09:14

One thing that has fascinated me for a long time is how huge, multi-billion dollar companies can make really obvious mistakes, mistakes that even a child could see.

Do people lose touch with the hoi polloi when they've been enjoying the perks of the executive cafeteria for too long?

Is it a product of the 'yes man' corporate culture, where some out-of-touch CEO has a shower epiphany which rips unchecked through vice presidents, middle managers, and teams of consultants to be broadcast nationwide?

Take what happened today: I'm looking at a photo of one of the biggest, most expensive branding decisions McDonald's has made in a long time. Happy, the new mascot of the Happy Meal.

This is an updated version of the old mascot, which was a Happy Meal box with a yellow smile drawn on it. Simple. Classic. Totally solid mascot. It seems logical, obvious, even, to give that old tried-and-true mascot an update. Bring it to life: add arms, legs and a face. What could possibly go wrong?

Crazy Eyes. That's what.

Happy looks crazy. Not evil, serial killer-crazy (which would actually, I think, be better) or even evil genius crazy... it's a desperate, deeply-needy, sad kind of crazy.

Happy's eyes say: "Hi! I'm Happy! Will you be my friend? Please? I have a lot of trouble reading social cues! Oh my God, I'm so lonely!"

Happy has the kind of expression on his face that you sometimes see on an internet date or a person you are sitting next to on a transatlantic flight. The kind of expression the person in the aisle wears that makes you think, "How much time can I spend in the bathroom before it becomes rude to the point of cruelty?" Shortly before ordering the strongest possible drink as fast as you possibly can.

In its press release, McDonald's says Happy will serve as "an ambassador for balanced and wholesome eating... and will encourage kids to enjoy fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and wholesome beverages such as water or juice."

Happy accompanies a new yogurt option (alternative to french fries) in the Happy Meal. So, Happy is telling kids to eat their fruits and vegetables.

Kids.

Kids, who will take one look at Happy and know that if they sat next to Happy in the lunch room, their social life would be over until they went to college. If you thought kids hated eating their fruits and vegetables before, now those fruits and vegetables are associated with being a social outcast... which makes me think that maybe, just maybe, Happy isn't the marketing snafu it first appears to be.

Maybe Happy is ACTUALLY a piece of marketing genius.

Consider this: McDonald's serves burgers, sodas, fries, Filets-o-Fish, McRibs, Egg McMuffins and basically everything that is bad for you and can fit inside of a sesame seed bun. McDonald's might SAY it's embracing healthy eating, but it's not.

If everyone in the world started eating what their doctor told them to, McDonald's would go out of business inside of two weeks. So what does McDonald's do? It rolls out a mascot for healthy eating, to tell kids how great "fruits, vegetables and wholesome beverages" are; a mascot that is so deeply unsettling to look at, any child who sees it will probably never want to go within 100 miles of fruit, vegetables or wholesome drinks ever again.

You know what doesn't have any fruits or too many vegetables? Burgers. Fries. Filets-o-Fish. McRibs. Egg McMuffins and basically everything else McDonald's serves.

McDonald's has not rolled out a messed-up mascot, it's invented the anti-mascot. Happy is reverse-psychology marketing in action.

Children, highly impressionable children, will now forever associate "balanced and wholesome eating" with the kid who sits alone in the corner of the cafeteria and brings his cousin to the Homecoming dance.

Sure, Happy might have crazy eyes... but I would submit that they might just be crazy, like a fox. Crazy like a fox that will spend the rest of its life thinking trans-fats are what the cool kids are eating.

Well played, McDonald's.

University building boom under way

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-20 08:58
A £9bn building boom at some of the UK's best known universities will create jobs and boost the economy, according to a report.

UK house prices 'up 8% in a year'

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-20 08:53
UK house prices rose by 8% in the year to the end of March, official figures show, as the prime minister says he will consider changes to Help to Buy.

US actor arrested over wife's death

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-20 08:46
Michael Jace is taken into custody after his wife was found shot dead at their Los Angeles home.

How much help do rural schools in your state need?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-20 08:30

The Rural School and Community Trust has released its "Why Rural Matters" report for 2013-2014, tracking the conditions of rural education in each of the 50 states. Using a combination of measurements, including student diversity, socioeconomic conditions and educational outcomes, the nonprofit organization categorizes in its report the overall need for support of rural education in each state.

In particular, the report highlighted the fact that rural schools, which serve 20 percent of U.S. schoolchildren, are experiencing higher growths in enrollment rates compared to non-rural schools. Rural schools also serve an increasingly diverse demographic and a growing percentage of students live in poverty, according to the report.

NPR To End 'Tell Me More,' Eliminate 28 Positions

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 08:28

The moves come as part of the network's effort to eliminate budget deficits. Tell Me More host Michel Martin will remain with NPR.

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Tuesday's gossip column

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-20 08:22
Luke Shaw set for Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid want Luis Suarez, Inter Milan and Liverpool want Ashley Cole and more.

Businesses win riot damage ruling

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-20 08:20
Businesses whose property is damaged in riots can recover "consequential" losses stemming from the incident, the Court of Appeal rules.

Search under way for missing boat

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-20 08:13
A major search is under way for a fishing boat with two people on board after it failed to return to an Aberdeenshire harbour.

This is your brain on a phone

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2014-05-20 08:00

There is word that Britain's National Health Service has just commissioned a big study to see what mobile phones are doing — if anything — to our kids.

This is one of the biggest stories I'v seen so far while broadcasting this week from London, and yet it has received very little coverage outside of these isles.

Here is the part that stopped me in my tracks: Researchers say this is not something that has been studied much. It should be said that perhaps there are no significant health, cognitive or developmental effects of young people using cell phones the way they do. But until this new research starts bearing fruit in a few years these will remain open questions.

The study will recruit parents and children at about 160 middle and high schools around London. They have to agree to let a special app monitor the phones of children as young as 11. The app will track how the phone is used, as a speaker phone, via headphones or how often it's held up against the ear.

Researchers, coordinated by the Imperial College London, are interested in any effects of radio waves emitted by the phones but also how the regular use of mobiles might change the way kids think or remember information. It's not just the effects of phones they are interested in, but other digital devices such as tablets as well. Alarmist nonsense? It is being noted here that the World Health Organization has said there is an urgent need for this kind of research with youngsters.

It is interesting that for a while now the National Health Service over here has had guidelines urging that phones should only be used by kids for "essential purposes." If you have ever seen a kid stuck in that praying mantis pose with a phone in hand, you know that is not always the case. That is to say kids have been known to use smart phones for more than just calling home for a ride or checking if the teacher had sent an email.

The lead investigator in the new British study is quoted by the BBC saying, "As mobile phones are a new and widespread technology central to our lives, carrying out the study is important in order to provide the evidence base with which to inform policy and through which parents and their children can make informed life choices."

What I am wondering is where they are going to find kids for the study's control group: the kids who never use phones are becoming a very rare breed.

Donors pledge $600m in S Sudan aid

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:58
Donors including the US and the UK pledge more than $600m (£360m; 440m euros) in aid to South Sudan at a conference in Norway.

CIA 'ends use of vaccine programmes'

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:46
The CIA has ended its use of vaccine programmes in its spying operations amid concerns for the safety of health workers, the White House says.

Chipotle restaurant: No guns, please

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:43
US fast-food chain Chipotle asks customers not to bring guns into its restaurants after gun advocates carried assault-style rifles into one in Texas.

Hillsborough search 'painstaking'

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:42
The Hillsborough disaster inquests jury is told of the "very painstaking work" to identify the victims in thousands of videos and photos.

G.M. Recalls 2.42 Million Vehicles Over Four Different Issues

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:42

The American auto company has faced intense criticism over its failure to recall more than 2 million vehicles with ignition switch problems linked to at least a dozen deaths.

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Colombia Three man wins guns appeal

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:36
A conviction of one of the so-called Colombia Three for a weapons offence has been quashed.

Putin seeks gas deal on China visit

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:34
Russia's President Vladimir Putin has begun a two-day state visit to China in which he hopes to deepen ties and sign a major gas deal.

E-Cigarette Users May End Up Paying More For Insurance

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:33

Tobacco users often have to pay higher premiums for health insurance, and it's not clear if switching to e-cigarettes will help them escape that fate. A lot depends on what federal agencies decide.

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Third Of French Are On Psychoactive Drugs, Agency Says

NPR News - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:29

Too many French citizens are regular or occasional users of prescription drugs such as antidepressants and sleeping pills, a government health agency says.

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Boardroom quotas a 'necessary evil'

BBC - Tue, 2014-05-20 07:22
Quotas should be implemented to increase the level of diversity in sport boardrooms, says Fifa member Moya Dodd.
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