McDonald's Hello Kitty toy promotion
Based on the loveable Japanese feline icon, fast-food chain McDonald's began a 40 day Wedding Design Hello Kitty toy promotion with its Extra Value Meals, starting from 1 January 2000. The promotion is remembered for sparking a queuing frenzy by thousands of people and igniting a public debate about the suitability of such soft toy promotions and the unruly response of Singaporeans that ensued.
Hello Kitty is a popular Japanese feline icon that first appeared on 1 November 1974. Created by Japanese toy company, Sanrio, the cartoon icon gained many fans worldwide, including Singaporeans. The attractive packaging of the icon into soft toys collectibles added to their endearing value by the time McDonald's decided to offer them to their customers.
By 2000, fast-food chain McDonald's, which opened its first outlet at Liat Towers in 1979, had expanded to 113 restaurants around Singapore. In appreciation of its large base of customers, McDonald's offered Hello Kitty toys at cost price along with its Extra Value Meals. The promotion began on 1 January 2000 with subsequent release of the toys made weekly on Thursdays. The toys consist of a Hello Kitty and a Dear Daniel figure dressed in wedding costumes of different cultures, including Malay, Japanese, Chinese and Korean. For the promotion, the pair came in six designs, and 400,000 sets of each pair for each of the six designs were produced with 2,000 pairs on average sent to each store. Once the promotion started, the toys were being briskly traded over the fast-food giant's counters, an early sign of a situation that was soon to get out of hand.
As early as it began, the well-intentioned promotion veered out of control with mayhem ruling the day each time the toys were released. Thousands of people turned up to buy the toys with the Extra Value Meals, with crowds forming as early as sunrise, and in some instances, the night before. The overwhelming response was unprecedented in McDonald's history, initially catching them unprepared with logistics and security support needed for such a massive crowd control. Not only were the fast food outlets stormed, McDonald's drive-thrus were also jam-packed, causing disruptions in traffic. The buying frenzy was not only contributed by the females who were thought to be ardent collectors of soft toys. Young men also joined the queue eager to snap up the toys, to impress their girlfriends or just to own and hold on to the toys in anticipation of the appreciation in value of these collectibles.
The long beelines for the toys became hotspots for flaring nerves and tempers, leading to unruly and inconsiderate behaviours, and spats among impatient customers. At the Boon Keng McDonald's outlet, the weight of the queue came to bear on the glass door, shattering it and causing injury to at least seven people with three sent to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for outpatient treatment. The long wait was physically draining for some resulting in fainting spells. Hidden agendas also beset the promotion as some customers were only interested to get the toys only to resell them at marked-up prices. Costing at only S$4.50 per pair with any Extra Value Meal, the entire line of Hello Kitty toys could fetch as much as S$980, as a spokesman for McDonald's had revealed. The rate of acquiring and hoarding the toys outpaced buyers' capacity of consuming the burgers and as a result the meals were thrown away leading to complaints of unnecessary and senseless waste of food.
Winding down of promotion
The chaos caused by the Hello Kitty promotion invited complaints from many quarters; businesses, government ministries and boards, the Federation of Merchants' Association (FMA) representing some 6,000 small and medium businesses, and the public. Merchants in housing estates groused that the long queues at McDonald's were adversely affecting their businesses. The Ministry of Environment noted an increase in garbage left behind by McDonald's customers and ordered McDonald's to clean up its premises by 27 January 2000. The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) received phone calls about people fighting and fainting while queuing. The Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) ruled that McDonald's should have pre-empted these problems based on a similar promotion that took place in Hong Kong the year before.
McDonald's apologised for inconveniences caused during the promotion, and following a review, took steps to regulate it. It set a limit of four toys per customer and stopped the sale at its drive-in outlets to prevent traffic jams, and also at its kiosks at Singapore Turf Club, Lucky Chinatown Point and Clementi. It also stationed more than 130 security guards at all of its outlets. In addition, it introduced a coupon system for the last pair in the design of six, the Chinese Hello Kitty dolls, rather than selling them at the outlets. McDonald's customers were also given a choice to donate their meals to charities to prevent food wastage.
Normalcy returned to McDonald's restaurants on 3 February. In total, 2.8 million toys were sold during the promotion. But the promotion was well-remembered more for the madness it created and, as some commentators highlighted, "Singaporeans' penchant for queuing".
1 Jan : McDonald's began its 40-day promotion of Hello Kitty toys, dressed in wedding costumes of different cultures, with its Extra Value Meals. First fight between a doctor and three others erupted because of the promotion.
2 Jan : First report of long queues totalling about 250, 000 to 300, 000 customers, for the soft toys.
6 Jan : Release of Hello Kitty pair in Malay wedding dress.
13 Jan : Seven people in a queue at the Boon Keng Road outlet were injured when a glass door shattered. The glass door was unable to withstand the weight of those pushing against it. The toys in Korean wedding dress were released.
25 Jan : McDonald's announced that these outlets ceased selling the toys: Singapore Turf Club, Chinatown Point and Clementi, next to the NTUC FairPrice supermarket. Sales at its drive-thrus were already stopped.
More than 130 security personnel were hired by McDonald's to patrol its outlets.
27 Jan : Six people were arrested. Three men arrested at the Bangkit Road outlet for rioting. Three other men arrested for disorderly conduct at the Bedok Reservoir, Lion City Hotel and Lot 1 Shopper's Mall outlets. The toys in Japanese wedding dress were released.
28 Jan : 64 more Cisco guards were added to control unruly crowd behaviour at 24 McDonald's outlets.
1 Feb : McDonald's began a new voucher system for the toys. Vouchers were sold to those who wanted to buy the Chinese pair. Customers could buy as many vouchers and collect the dolls in July when announced by McDonald's. The announcement came with a public apology and a $1 redeemable voucher against any McDonald's purchase.
Nureza Ahmad & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman
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Nadarajan, B. (2000, January 3). Three assault doctor, wife and son. The Straits Times.
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Goh, D. (2000, December 29). McDonalds to keep a lid on Hello Kitty frenzy. The Straits Times.
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Teo, L. and Palden, T. (2000, January 28). 6 held as Hello Kitty queues turn ugly. The Straits Times.
Wong, K. (2000, August 29). Jail for father and son in Hello Kitty assault. The Straits Times.
The information in this article is valid as at 2004 and correct as far as we can ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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