Industry News | January 1, 2000

McDonald's Gets McHappy

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McDonald's is known among consumers and industrywide as much for its philanthropic deeds as for its golden arches. So it is fitting that the century's best-known quick-service success story is ushering in the new millennium with a series of initiatives focusing on children and communities.

McDonald's officially launched its global millennium celebration in September in Budapest, Hungary, at the opening of the two-hundreth Ronald McDonald House. The burger chain planned to have 208 Ronald McDonald Houses in nineteen countries by the end of 1999.

McDonald's has joined forces with another perennial family brand, Walt Disney Company, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, to honor the civic contributions of young people through their global children's recognition program. "Millennium Dreamers" will bring together two thousand kids ages eight to fifteen for an international children's summit in May of 2000 at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. "We are undertaking the broadest worldwide search ever in order to recognize the remarkable contributions that young people make every day in their communities," says Larry Zwain, senior vice president of U.S. marketing at McDonald's USA. "Our goal is to honor young people on the occasion of the new millennium and salute them as the leaders of tomorrow."

After all, says Zwain, who is out to please kids and families every day more than McDonald's? "That's part," he says, "of our mission in life." The program is looking for kids who have gone beyond a one-day event to make a long-term commitment to their communities. One example, Zwain says, is a little girl who recommended bullet-proof vests for the police in her community—a policy that was successfully adopted. Another young boy organized help for the homeless in his community. The nominations will be judged by a panel of community leaders, educators, and members of national and international children's organizations such as the National Urban League, Junior Achievement, YWCA, and National Latino Children's Institute.

On October first, McDonald's restaurants nationwide kicked off their millennium celebration with promotional events tied to Walt Disney World Resort's year-long celebration marking the turn of the century. "McDonald's and Disney have an enormous alliance," Zwain says, "and we are very proud of that."

The ten-year partnership is already three years old. "We expect [the alliance] to go even further than that," Zwain says.

Through October 28, customers were given the chance to win one of five hundred family vacations for four to the Walt Disney World Resort Millennium Celebration. Each week in October, customers could buy one of four commemorative Walt Disney World millennium collector McDonald's glasses with a menu purchase.

On October fourth, more than twelve thousand restaurants in the United States celebrated "McHappy Day" by do-nating $1 from each Big Mac Extra Value Meall purchased to Ronald McDonald House Charities, which makes grants to not-for-profit organizations and provides support to Ronald McDonald Houses worldwide.

Seventy-five percent of the monies raised will stay in local communities, while 25 percent will go to RMHC's global grantmaking programs. Similar activities will be pursued around the world throughout the year 2000. "The goal," says Zwain, "is to raise hundreds of millions of dollars in charitable contributions for opportunities for kids, mostly in the areas of medical research and medical treatment."

McHappy Day coincides with the chain's founder's week, during which employees contribute working hours to charitable resources in their respective communities. Zwain estimates that employees donated twenty-five thousand hours of work during the weeklong event. "Corporate sponsorship and community [service] have been part of our philosophy from the day McDonald's was founded," says Zwain. "Ray and Mac Kroc gave huge amounts to local communities. And nothing could speak higher than Ronald McDonald House Charities. To us it's all about giving something back to communities in which we work."