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McDonald?s dominates mobile by transforming packaging into virtual reality handsets

McDonald?s is adding a new spin to its Happy Meal by enabling customers in Sweden to download a complementary mobile application and turn the packaging into a virtual reality viewer, underscoring the fast food chain?s desire to build relationships with younger consumers.

McDonald?s is rolling out ?Happy Goggles? boxes that are equipped with a set of lenses and may be re-assembled to form a virtual reality handset with the use of a customer?s smartphone. This promotional strategy comes on the heels of a year of lackluster sales for the food and beverage brand, which is now determined to develop an entirely new experience centering on fresh packaging to help distinguish itself from its competitors.

?It is certainly an innovative way to create the opportunity for an additional experience in-store and could certainly attract tech-savvy customers with young children and even some tech-savvy consumers without children who will try to get their hands on a Happy Meal for the first time in over 20 years,? said Ben Hordell, partner at DXagency, Edgewater, NJ. 

Lovin? new experiences
McDonald?s is ramping up to provide its younger consumers with an inexpensive and interactive way to augment their Happy Meals consumption with a virtual reality experience. The chain recognizes that children are more comfortable than ever with using digital gadgets, meaning it must move away from its previous tendencies to give away figurines and toys with meals, and have its items better reflect today?s mobile climate.

The Happy Goggles boxes can be picked up at select McDonald?s locations in Sweden for a limited time. Consumers may download the complementary Slope Stars virtual reality app, which showcases a 360-degree skiing experience featuring the Swedish National Ski Team.

The fast food chain hopes the virtual experience will be entertaining for children and equally as engaging for adult customers. Happy Meals' sheer popularity prompted McDonald?s to choose them as the most optimal platform on which to introduce this functionality.

?Equipping the child with a reusable VR viewer could serve to enhance not only the child?s experience, but also the parent?s eating experience by offering something to occupy the youngster?s attention ? this all creates a positive brand impression with the consumer,? said Rob Noll, vice president of Web development at PM Digital, New York. ?More importantly, this tactic can be leveraged to trigger a brand-specific app download to deliver content.

?This has the potential to open a new channel for content delivery and engagement beyond the initial visit, which is key for brands and marketers.?

In addition to being a clever new marketing strategy for the brand, the virtual reality boxes are a low-cost expense. Since smartphones are already the most omnipresent personal device, McDonald?s only needs to provide the cardboard Happy Meal, alongside signage promoting the Slope Stars app.

After purchasing a Happy Meal, consumers can follow accompanying directions to fold the box into a handset before sliding their smartphone inside.

If the pilot in Swedish restaurants goes well, McDonald?s could potentially reclaim some of its former marketing prowess in the United States by rolling out the virtual reality-enabled Happy Meals in national locations. The tactic is likely to resonate positively with mobile-savvy children.

In turn, the brand is well-poised to experience an uptick in the number of Happy Meals sold.

Additionally, a plethora of new brand cross-partnerships could abound. McDonald?s would be in the position to partner with other companies, who may want to create new virtual reality apps and content for fast food fans.

Virtual reality boom
McDonald?s may be the first quick service restaurant marketer to dip its toes into the world of virtual reality. However, a slew of other brands have already made their mark in the sector.

Since Facebook and YouTube introduced 360-video along with hardware devices from Google, Samsung and Microsoft, marketers are stepping up efforts to leverage virtual reality to connect with consumers, showing the technology's potential beyond gaming (see story).

Coca-Cola is planning a wider rollout for a successful virtual reality headset strategy launched last year with Fanta, hoping to encourage more consumers to recycle cardboard packaging and pair it with a smartphone to create a content viewer (see story).

Meanwhile, Volvo?s award-winning campaign asked consumers to download a specific app several weeks before the release of a new car, and shipped Google cardboard virtual reality sets to those individuals? homes.

Consumers could then select a route, put on the headset and enjoy a virtual drive in the vehicle, enabling them to be the first people to test it out before it reached the mass market.

?There is always a lot of copycatting in marketing but this is quite the endeavor as it involves the creation and distribution of new packaging and the development of a VR experience,? DXagency's Mr. Hordell said. ?The barriers to entry are high.

?That being said, I would imagine seeing other brands taking the plunge to further their brand experiences. Many of these fast food restaurants lack differentiation among their competition in the consumers? eyes, so whatever it takes to bring them into the store is worth trying.?