Captain Kirk, Spock, Gene Roddenberry and The Story of the First Happy Meal
So in the year 2007, as the children gathered around the ethernet one said, "Please, Mr. Goldenberg, tell us the story of the first Happy Meal."
"Yeah," said another, "and make it quick. We don't have all day. There's a rerun of "Heroes" on that I want catch."
"Well, I'll tell you the story," said Mr. Goldenberg. " but I can't promise it'll be quick. My stories are never quick. And there's so much to tell. It invloves Captain Kirk and Spock and even Gene Roddenbery, plus Dick Wolf, the creator of "Law & Order."
Then, as all the children nestled in their broadband blankets, Goldenberg began to weave the tale of the first Happy Meal.
In 1979, I was Creative Director of the Frankel Company, McDonald's sales promotion agency. At that time, the Happy Meal had been tried in McDonald's stores in New York, Philadelphia, Kansas City and other local markets, but it was just not a huge success. Kids were just not that interested in getting their parents to buy it for them.
So, the idea of nationally advertising and promoting a Happy Meal was little more than a dream.
Now you have to keep in mind that while McDonald's owned the rights to the name Happy Meal, they weren't the first fast food company to try to sell kids what is called a combo meal-a sandwich, drink and fries.Plus, of course, one of the damn little collectible toys! Burger Chef, a company that's no longer around was the first sell a combo meal, then Burger King and then McDonald's.
But none of them had much of a success with it. The financial benefit of getting kids to request a combo meal like the Happy Meal was HUGE. Figure that only 60-70% of kids who order a hamburger or a cheeseburger also get a drink with it. And maybe only 40-50% also want fries.
But McDonald's knew that when a kid requested a Happy Meal, 100% of the kids also got a drink and fries with their burger.
There were two probelms, however. (1) What to put on the box (the theme) to get kids to request it? and (2) Whether it should be in a box at all?
"One of the kids listening to the story started to cry.
"What's the matter?," asked Mr. Goldenberg
"I was just thinking...of a Happy Meal in a bag. It just so sad."
Goldenberg continued. Ray Kroc, the creator of McDonald's, wanted to put the Happy Meal in a bag because McDonald's would save several cents on every Happy Meal. When you're talking about selling million (now billions) of Happy Meals, those pennies really add up.
But I argued with Ray Kroc that the Happy Meal had to be sold in a box.
You see, to me, what would make the Happy Meal successful the Happy Meal was that if we could make it collectible, it would act as an "in-home reminder of the need to visit McDonald's."
(In today world--"Mom, Dad, we've GOTTA go back to McDonald's. I need three more Spongebobs to complete my collection."
While I certainly didn't know the word viral back then, I knew the power of kids when they want something. So if I could get kids to request a Happy Meal regularly, it would mean HUGELY successful product.
I told Ray Kroc (I never actually met him. I had to deal with him through Account Executives) that a bag would just slip behind a kids' desks and the kids would forget that they NEEDED to get back to McDonald's.
But a collectible BOX, now that would be on a kid's desk in his room--right where a kid could see it.
Eventually ay Kroc agreed, but that still left us with the problem of what to put on the first national Happy Meal boxes. McDonald's had tried several themes on the local Happy Meal boxes, like outer space and the Grand Canyon, but none were very compelling to kids.
I told my contacts at McDonald's that movie merchandising was going to be the wave of the future. Now today, EVERY company knows the value of entertainment tie-ins, but back then none of the fast food companies were using movies to promote their products.
I suggested tying in with the first "Star Trek" movie, but McDonald's said "that would be using borrowed interest."
I remember saying sarcaticly at the time, "Yeah, you're right. A kid's going to walk into McDonald's and say, "Hey, Dad, they have a "Star Trek" Happy Meal."
"Do you want one?," askes his Dad.
"Nah, that's just borrowed interest!," the kid would say.
I couldn't convince McDonald's management on my own, so I brought in someone with Hollywood contacts, a terrific marketer named Rusty Citron. He gave a talk at Frankel on the value of entertainment tie-ins. But it still that wasn't enough to convince McDonald's management to go down the potentially risky road of using a movie to promote hamburgers.
Next, I brought in a friend of mine, Dick Wolf, currently one of TV's most successful producers, but this was before his Law & Order days. Dick was doing movies back then, but even he couldn't convince McDonald's to tie-in with the first "Star Trek" movie.
Then, a miracle happened. Coca-Cola bought the rights to promote the "Star Trek" movie and gave the rights free to McDonald's if they woluld use it in store.
McDonald's agreed to use the licence on the first national Happy Meal. My staff at Frankel designed some great looking "Star Trek" Happy Meal boxes, we purchased the Star Trek premiums, and the rest is history.
McDonald's spent about $20 million dollars behind the Star Trek Happy Meal. The Happy Meal was a HUGE sucess and it helped launch all those future "Star Trek" movies, too. Not to mention every marketer in the country jumped on the entertainment tie-in bandwagon.
One more part to the story. McDonald's paid Willam Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Gene Roddenberry, the creator of the "Star Trek" TV show, to kick off the Happy Meal promotion at a national meeting of franchisees. Back then "Kirk and Spock" were fighting with each other over the first "Star Trek" movie, so both used their appearance to roast the other. They said pretty cruel, but funny things. The audience of franchiseees loved it.
'Well, that's it kids," said Goldenberg, "do you have any questions."
"Yeah," said one youngster, "you must be pretty old to have worked on the first Happy Meal. How old are you anyway?"
"Well, age is a relative thing," said Goldenberg."So without being specific, I will tell you this. When I was young, I had to walk 20 miles... in the snow... just to pick up my e-mail."
In my full time job, I'm a senior copywriter for a large pharmaceutical company. I work on drugs for HIV, Hepatitis B, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, etc. I also work on corporate projects like this Sunday's NY Aids Walk in Central Park, National Mental Health Month and an anti-stigma camapign for mental health.
My own company, Einstein da Vinci and Goldenberg, has a profitable ("I wish") and pro bon side. I created, patented and am trying to license a FlipWatch, a watch with faces (back to back) and a flexible band, so a wearer can turn it over and over.
It could be any combination of two watch faces like a favorite baseball and football team (NY Yankees and NY Giants), political (Obama for President and It's time for a change), moods (Happy and Sad), super heroes (Spiderman and Peter Parker), movie heroes and villains (Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader) or funkier choices like bacon and eggs (Kevin Bacon and sunny-side up eggs), Mr. Coffee and Mr T or the Chicken and the Egg.
I also do a limited amount of marketing and PR for a few friends like promoting a web site, www.cocoaconnoisseur.com, that sells hot chocolate.
We (well, there's only me right now) also do one or two charitable projects a year like raising money and awareness at Christmas so disadvantaged kids get a Christmas present or feeding 75,000 people a year a hot Thanksgiving Dinner.
I'll talk to anyone about their own projects, but I don't have the time to participate beyond
talking to someone over the phone and advising them.
How I Introduced David Letterman, Donald Trump, Bill Cosby and Matt Lauer to the Soviet Union’s Last Beauty Queen
Just as I thought all the kids were nestled in their beds with visions of broadband dancing in their heads, one piped up, “Ooh, ooh, Mr. Goldenberg, “tell us another story, please. Tell us the one about you, Pee-wee Herman and the West Coast chimp.”
“No,” said a second kid, waking up from the commotion. “Tell us the one about how you convinced the UN to allow you to sell Tickets of Admission to the Earth for International Earth Day.”
“Nah,” said a third child, I just wanna see a magic trick. Like the one where you put your hand behind my ear and pull out a quarter.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell that third kid that it wasn’t really magic. I had placed the quarter there last November. “How about if I tell you the story of the last Russian Beauty Queen?’ I asked.
“OK,” said the first kid, “but it better involve Donald Trump and David Letterman."
“And Bill Cosby an’ that dude from the Today Show,” said another.
“Well, actually, I do have story that involves all of them and the recently deceased Russian President, Boris Yeltsin.
“Wow, that would be GREAT,” said the third kid, “we LOVE to hear stories about the recently deceased Russian President, Boris Yeltsin. But is it a true story? Is it true? Is it one that really happened.”
“Yes, it is,” I said, winking at little Alberto Gonzalez, “to the best of my recollection.”
“And so the story begins.” (“Damn that took a long time,” said one of the kids to himself.)
It was 1990, and I was running a company called Einstein, da Vinci & Goldenberg. Well, of course I was running the company. One of my partners had been dead for almost 472 years.
I read about another company (none of whose partners were dead) called Global American TV. They had placed the first paid ads on Soviet TV for Pepsi, Sony and Visa. I knew I wanted to do something with Global American, but I wasn’t sure how to approach them.
Then I read another article about a strange beauty pageant held in the Soviet Union. The Miss U.S.S.R Beauty Pageant was a three-day affair, full of pomp and circumstance and beautiful women from all over the Soviet Union.
The beautiful women aspect of the pageant intrigued me. (The pomp and the circumstance, not so much.) So I contacted Global American TV and I pitched them the idea of televising the next Miss USSR Beauty Pageant in the United States. I suggested that Billy Joel or Billy Crystal would be great hosts. “They both have toured the Soviet Union," I told them. "And they were both named Billy.”
One of the partners at Global American, David Nussbaum, championed the idea and I was off and running. Or course, then Boris Yeltsin, started promoting freedom and glasnost (a Russian word for “transparency” and openness”). He HAD to have his way. The Iron Curtain came down. The Soviet Union was divided up. I lost my client (the Soviet Union). And there was never another Miss USSR Beauty Pageant.” The end.
“That was a sucky story,” said one of the kids. “What about the part about David Letterman, Donald Trump, Bill Cosby and Matt Lauer?”
“Yeah,” Mr. Goldenberg, “Where in the World was Matt Lauer?, asked a second kid.
“I agree with them,” said a third kid, “but I do admire the way you punctuate quotes throughout this story. Did you ever think of being a punctualtist?”
“All right, all right,” I said. “That’s a pretty cool part of the story, too.” So I continued.
In November, 1990, Global American TV made arrangements for the two top winners of the second Miss U.S.S.R. Beauty Pageant, 17 year-old winner Maria Kazha (Ka•Zha´) and the 19 year-old runner up, Lauma Zemzare, Miss Soviet TV, to visit and tour the United States. And I was to be their tour guide and press agent. (I must have good karma.)
Three questions came to mind.
(1) Where would I take them in the US?
(2) How would I get them publicity?
(3) How in the hell was I going to tell my wife I was touring the east coast with two under-20 year-old Russian beauties?
And (4) Now that I think of it. Why isn't east coast capitalized?
So, I did the only sane thing a man could do. After I picked these two beauty queens up at Kennedy Airport, with flowers in hand to welcome them to the United States, I drove them to my home in Westport, Connecticut where they could spend the night.
Now, usually when I tell this part of the story, most guys wink at me knowingly. “Took ‘em to your house, huh? For some international relations?”
Especially, those loser guys. You know, the guys that always want to know, “Did you get any?” The same guys that, if they ever did get to second-base (and I’m talking about when they’ve paid for it), they’re usually thrown out trying to steal third.
Nod. Nod. Wink. Wink. You know the kind of guys I mean?
But they would be missing the point. And my intentions. Yeah, I took them to my house for a sleepover. Because I wanted them to know I had a wife who was as beautiful as they were. And I had a daughter who was their age, maybe younger, so I wasn’t about to hit on them once we were on the road.
Anyway, in the 10-days they were in the US, I got them a promo gig on VH-1 and a tour of Stew Leonard’s grocery store in Norwalk, where, I might add, they posed for photos with Stew's two-legged cow. Oh, and I also had them scheduled for an appearance on NBC’s afternoon news show "Live at Five."
But their tour was almost up—three days were left---and I still hadn’t made a much of a splash. With time running out, I picked up Maria and Lauma at Donald Trump’s Plaza Hotel.
“See,” said of the kids listening to the story, “I told you he’d weave Donald Trump into the story. He’s a master at this stuff.”
Actually, I guess I did accomplish SOMETHING. I had arranged for the two Russian beauty queens to stay free at the Plaza Hotel for 8 days. Food not included. So I brought them a breakfast of fruit every day.
“Did you know,” I told them, “that this is traditionally what most models in America eat every morning, especially when they have a C List press agent?”
They were content.
Anyway, in the afternoon a few days before they were set to go home, we went over to Rockefeller Center where NBC has its newscast. Little did I know then that this would turn out to me one of the most unusual days in my life.
One of the hosts of Live at Five, Matt Lauer, before he became the superstar of The Today Show, decided to do a pre-show interview with the girls. They didn’t do that well. That was putting it mildly. Actually, they froze. The idea of going on live TV was scary and their mastery of the English language, which they’d studied for years, suddenly was no longer there.
Worse than that, Matt Lauer thought they were frauds. “These girls aren’t Russian beauty queens,” Lauer protested, “what are you trying to pull?”
“Whaddya’ mean?” I said, “Maria is Miss USSR and Lauma is the runner-up.”
“Then where are their crowns?” Lauer continued
“Well, beauty queens don’t exactly travel with their crowns., now do they?”
Somehow, I convinced Matt Lauer to put Maria and Lauma on "Live at Five." He wasn’t happy about it, but he decided to go ahead with the interview.
I was watching the interview from a hallway monitor when my eye caught another monitor with David Letterman just beginning his opening monologue. (He shoots his 11:30 PM show late in the afternoon.)
Pretty cool, I thought, shame I didn’t have the kind of pull to get the girls on Letterman. Then it happened! As I was watching Letterman open his show, he started talking about Mari and Lauma. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
He didn’t know who they were, but he said “So, I was just in my dressing room a couple of minutes ago and I see these two tall, statuesque, gorgeous, stunning, exquisite, foreign looking women rush over to the "Live at Five" set.
Then he turned to his producer on , but off camera and said, “Hey, Morty, why can’t we get those two tall, statuesque, gorgeous, stunning, exquisite, foreign looking women on my show?
Letterman continued, “Yeah, Morty, I want them on my show NOW! Go see if you can get them.”
As I was watching the monitor, the camera followed Robert Morton, Letterman’s producer, down the hall and now I’m watching ME on Letterman. ME ON LETTERMAN!
“Hey, Morty, he looks like he’s their producer, ask him about those girls.”
It was the most surrealistic moment of my life. I was only on "Late Night with David Letterman" for about 14 seconds (not that I’ve timed it). So, I sent Robert Morton< Letterman's producer, into the "Live at Five" set and five minutes later Maria Zemzare, Miss USSR, is being interviewed by Letterman right after the monologue. They even bumped Rosanne Barr back ten minutes so David and Maria could talk.
Letterman was smitten with Maria. She was beautiful and charming and could almost keep up with Letterman’s banter. And when she couldn’t., that was even better.
At one point, Letterman asked Maria, “So, why don’t you come over to my house after the show and we’ll grill some steaks,”
“Oh, I don’t think so,” said Maria in her endearing Russian accent, seemingly understanding Letterman’s joke. The audience roared. Later, the host of "Late Night" brought out Lauma, too. And he did something I’ve never seen him do before. Or since. He actually brought the Russian beauty queens back two more times during the show, once to give them American cigarettes and once at the end, to close the show.
I was totally dazed. Was I really on Letterman? Did the girls really appear? Three times? That’s impossible. I called every friend and relative I’d ever met and said, “Watch Letterman tonight! I’m on it!”
The next day when People Magazine called (see photo of Maria in People on my page) it was almost anti-climactic. Somehow, I arranged a breakfast meeting with Donald Trump the next day and dinner at the taping of the Bill Cosby Show.
The girls were and hit and so was I. I not only got them on Letterman and in People Magazine, but I’d appeared on Letterman, too.
Did I tell you I was on for 14 seconds?
By now, most of the kids listening to my story were fast asleep. One kid opened one eye and said, “Hey, I just found a quarter behind my ear!”
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