McDonald's Hello Kitty toy promotion



Based on the popular Japanese feline icon Hello Kitty, fast-food chain McDonald’s began a 40-day Wedding Design Hello Kitty toy promotion with its Extra Value Meals on 1 January 2000.1 The promotion is remembered for sparking a queuing frenzy by thousands of people, and igniting a public debate on the suitability of such soft toy promotions as well as the unruly response of Singaporeans that had ensued.2

Background
Hello Kitty is a popular Japanese feline icon launched on 1 November 1974.3 Created by Japanese toy company, Sanrio, the cartoon icon gained many fans worldwide, including Singapore.4


In 1979, fast-food chain McDonald’s opened its first outlet in Singapore at Liat Towers. By 2000, it had expanded to 113 restaurants around Singapore. In appreciation of its large customer base, the fast-food chain offered Hello Kitty toys at cost price along with its Extra Value Meals.5

Description
The promotion began on 1 January 2000, with one design released weekly on Thursdays.6 Each set of toys comprised a pair of Hello Kitty and Dear Daniel figures, dressed in wedding costumes of different cultures such as Malay, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.7 The pair came in six designs. 400,000 sets of each design were produced.8

The promotion veered out of control each time the toys were released.9 Thousands of people would turn up to buy the toys with the Extra Value Meals, with crowds forming as early as sunrise, and in some instances, the night before.10 The overwhelming response was unprecedented in McDonald’s history. The fast-food chain was initially caught unprepared, with logistics and security support needed for massive crowd control at the outlets.11 There were also long queues at McDonald’s drive-thru counters, which caused traffic disruptions.12

Besides females who were thought to be more ardent collectors of the soft toys, young men also contributed to the buying frenzy. They were eager to snap up the toys to impress their girlfriends, or to hold on to the toys in anticipation of the appreciation in value of these collectibles.13 Some customers wanted to purchase the toys to resell them at marked-up prices.14 Costing S$4.50 per pair with any Extra Value Meal, the entire line of Hello Kitty toys could fetch as much as S$980, a spokesman for McDonald’s had revealed. The rate of acquiring and hoarding the toys outpaced buyers’ ability to consume the food. As a result, many purchased meals were thrown away, which led to complaints of unnecessary and senseless food waste.15

The long lines for the Hello Kitty toys became hotspots for frayed nerves and flaring tempers, which led to unruly and inconsiderate behaviour, as well as spats among impatient customers.16 At the Boon Keng outlet, the weight of the queue came to bear on the glass door, shattering it and causing injury to at least seven people. Three were sent to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for outpatient treatment.17 In addition, the long wait was physically draining for some, which resulted in fainting spells.18

Winding down of promotion
The chaos caused by the Hello Kitty promotion resulted in complaints from many quarters, including the public and various businesses, with some 6,000 small-and-medium businesses represented by the Federation of Merchants’ Association. Merchants in housing estates groused that the long queues at McDonald’s were adversely affecting their businesses.19 The Ministry of Environment noted an increase in garbage left behind by McDonald’s customers, and ordered the fast-food chain to clean up its outlets by 27 January 2000. The Singapore Civil Defence Force received phone calls about people fighting and fainting while in the queue. The Consumer Association of Singapore pointed out that McDonald’s should have pre-empted these problems, based on a similar promotion held in Hong Kong the year before.20

McDonald’s apologised for the inconveniences caused and took steps to regulate the promotion following a review.21 Besides setting a limit of four toys per customer, the fast-food chain stopped selling the toys at its drive-thru counters to prevent traffic jams and at the kiosks at Singapore Turf Club, Chinatown Point and Clementi.22 It also stationed more than 130 security guards at all of its outlets.23 In addition, it introduced a coupon system for the last of the six designs – the Hello Kitty dolls in Chinese wedding dress. The system entailed selling vouchers to those who wished to purchase the Hello Kitty pair. No limit was placed on the number of vouchers per customer, with collection of the toys in July when announced by McDonald’s.24 To prevent food wastage, McDonald’s gave customers the option to donate their meals to charities.25

Normalcy returned to McDonald’s restaurants on 3 February.26 In total, 2.8 million toys were sold during the promotion, which is well-remembered for the frenzy it created and, as some commentators highlighted, “Singaporeans’ penchant for queuing”.27

Timeline
1 Jan: McDonald’s begins a 40-day promotion of Hello Kitty toys with its Extra Value Meals. The toys are dressed in wedding costumes of different cultures.28 First fight due to the promotion takes places between a doctor and three others.29
2 Jan: First report of long queues totalling about 250,000 to 300,000 customers for the soft toys.30
6 Jan: Release of Hello Kitty pair in Malay wedding dress.31
13 Jan: Release of toys in Korean wedding dress. Seven people in a queue at the Boon Keng Road outlet are injured when a glass door, unable to withstand the weight of those pushing against it, shatters.32
25 Jan: McDonald’s announces that these outlets ceased selling the toys: Singapore Turf Club, Chinatown Point and Clementi. Sales at its drive-thru had already stopped.33 More than 130 security personnel hired by McDonald’s to patrol its outlets.34
27 Jan: Release of Hello Kitty pair in Japanese wedding dress. Six people are arrested: three at the Bangkit Road outlet for rioting, and three other men for disorderly conduct at the Bedok Reservoir, Lion City Hotel and Lot 1 Shopper’s Mall outlets.35
28 Jan: 64 more Cisco guards added to control unruly crowd behaviour at 24 outlets.36
1 Feb: McDonald’s introduces a voucher system that entails the sale of vouchers to those who wish to purchase the Hello Kitty pair in Chinese wedding dress.37



Authors
Nureza Ahmad & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman



References
1.
Buy for charity’s kitty. (1999, December 30). The New Paper, p. 8; Chong, C. K. (2000, January 14). Seven hurt in rush for Hello Kitty toys. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2.
John, A. (2000, January 19). Hello Kitty? Then, goodbye, golden arches. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3.
Sanrios stable. (1999, January 30). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4.
Wee, L., & Lee, L. (2000, January 16). Hello, what’s fuss all about? The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5.
John, A. (2000, January 19). Hello Kitty? Then, goodbye, golden arches. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6.
Lim, T. (2000, January 27). Cute cat, ugly S’porean. The New Paper, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7.
Kitty chaos. (2000, December 28). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8.
McDonald’s explains its moves. (2000, February 2). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9.
Hong, X. (2000, January 14). Dear Miss Kitty I’m angry. I’m fed-up. The New Paper, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10.
Goh, D. (2000, December 29). McDonald’s to keep a lid on Hello Kitty frenzy. The Straits Times, p. H10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11.
McDonald’s explains its moves. (2000, February 2). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12.
Santa Maria, S. (2000, January 7). Long queues for cutie Kitty collectibles. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13.
Chua, L. H. (2000, January 29). The tragic-comedy of Hello Kitty. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
14. Wee, L., & Lee, L. (2000, January 16). Hello, what’s fuss all about? The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15.
Santa Maria, S. (2000, January 7). Long queues for cutie Kitty collectibles. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16.
Kitty chaos. (2000, December 28). The Straits Times, p. 9; Teo, L., & Tshering, P. (2000, January 28). 6 held as Hello Kitty queues turn ugly. The Straits Times, p. 3; Koh, B. P. (2000, January 21). Kitty mania rages on. The Straits Times, p. 62. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17.
Chong, C. K. (2000, January 14). Seven hurt in rush for Hello Kitty toys. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18.
7 faint. (2000, January 27). The New Paper, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19.
Tan, K. T. (2000, January 26). Hello Kitty queues disrupting business. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
20. Teo, L., & Tshering, P. (2000, January 28). 6 held as Hello Kitty queues turn ugly. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21.
Teo, L., & Tshering, P. (2000, January 28). 6 held as Hello Kitty queues turn ugly. The Straits Times, p. 3; John, A. (2000, January 19). Hello Kitty? Then, goodbye, golden arches. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22.
John, A. (2000, January 19). Hello Kitty? Then, goodbye, golden arches. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Tan, K. T. (2000, January 26). Hello Kitty queues disrupting business. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
23. Koh, B. P. (2000, January 21). Kitty mania rages on. The Straits Times, p. 62. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24.
Teo, L., & Tshering, P. (2000, January 28). 6 held as Hello Kitty queues turn ugly. The Straits Times, p. 3; Hello Kitty, goodbye unruly queues. (2000, February 4). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
25.
John, A. (2000, January 19). Hello Kitty? Then, goodbye, golden arches. The Straits Times, p. 48. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
26.
Hello Kitty, goodbye unruly queues. (2000, February 4). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27.
Goh, D. (2000, December 29). McDonald’s to keep a lid on Hello Kitty frenzy. The Straits Times, p. H10; Wee, T. (2001, August 9). Taking the queue from Singaporeans. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28.
Wee, L., & Lee, L. (2000, January 16). Hello, what’s fuss all about? The Straits Times, p. 2; Chong, C. K. (2000, January 14). Seven hurt in rush for Hello Kitty toys. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
29.
Koh, B. P. (2000, January 21). Kitty mania rages on. The Straits Times, p. 62. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30.
McDonald’s explains its moves. (2000, February 2). The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
31.
Santa Maria, S. (2000, January 7). Long queues for cutie Kitty collectibles. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32.
Chong, C. K. (2000, January 14). Seven hurt in rush for Hello Kitty toys. The Straits Times, p. 3; Koh, B. P. (2000, January 21). Kitty mania rages on. The Straits Times, p. 62. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
33.
Tan, K. T. (2000, January 26). Hello Kitty queues disrupting business. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
34. Koh, B. P. (2000, January 21). Kitty mania rages on. The Straits Times, p. 62. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35.
Teo, L., & Tshering, P. (2000, January 28). 6 held as Hello Kitty queues turn ugly. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36.
Teo, L., & Tshering, P. (2000, January 28). 6 held as Hello Kitty queues turn ugly. The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37.
Hello Kitty, goodbye unruly queues. (2000, February 4). The Straits Times, p. 22. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 2004 and correct as far as we are able to 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.


 

 

Subject
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Manufacturing industries>>Food, beverages and tobacco
Trade and industry
Business, finance and industry>>Marketing and sales>>Advertising
Hello Kitty (Fictitious character)
Commerce and Industry>>Trade
Advertising campaigns--Singapore