McDonald's Hello Kitty toy promotion

Singapore Infopedia

by Nureza Ahmad


McDonald’s, the fast-food chain, launched a 40-day Wedding Design Hello Kitty toy promotion with its Extra Value Meals on 1 January 2000.This promotion was based on the popular Japanese feline icon Hello Kitty and its companion, Dear Daniel. The promotion is remembered for sparking a queuing frenzy by thousands of people, as well as igniting a public debate on the suitability of such soft toy promotions and the unruly response of Singaporeans that had ensued.2

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

McDonald’s, the fast-food chain, opened its first outlet in Singapore at Liat Towers in 1979. 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

The buying frenzy
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 different wedding costumes, such as Malay, Japanese, Chinese and Korean outfits.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.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.10 This overwhelming response was unprecedented in McDonald’s history. The fast-food chain was initially caught unprepared, as logistics and security support were needed to manage the huge crowds at its 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 the 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 As each pair of toys cost S$4.50 with any Extra Value Meal, the entire line of Hello Kitty toys could fetch as much as S$980, a spokesman for McDonald’s 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 injuring 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 the volume of 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 kiosks at Singapore Turf Club, Chinatown Point and Clementi, and did the same at its drive-thru counters to prevent traffic jams.22 It also stationed more than 130 security guards at all outlets.23 In addition, it introduced a coupon system for the last of the six designs – the Hello Kitty dolls dressed in a Chinese wedding outfit. 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, but the toys could only be collected in July at a date specified 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

Subsequent promotions
In 2013, McDonald’s launched a series of six Hello Kitty characters dressed in outfits from popular fairy tales. One plush toy was released over the counter every week from 30 May till 3 July. The plush toy was sold at S$4.60 each with every purchase of an Extra Value Meal, or S$10 each without an Extra Value Meal.28 The release of the last toy, a limited edition “Singing Bone” Hello Kitty, resulted in long queues outside McDonald’s outlets islandwide before the launch on 27 June midnight. The police were called in to manage the crowds and incidences of queue-jumping at many outlets. There were more than 600 advertisements for the toy on eBay. Many toys were offered at inflated prices, with one bid going as high as $126,000.29

In 2014, in celebration of Hello Kitty’s 40th anniversary, McDonald’s launched a new series of six Hello Kitty plush toys dressed up as other Sanrio characters. Each toy was sold at S$4.95 with the purchase of an Extra Value Meal. Singapore was the first in the world to get the collection.30 The Hello Kitty Bubbly World Collector’s set was also made available for online purchase for the first time. Each set, which costs S$80, consists of all six toys, a 40th anniversary certificate and six Extra Value Meal S$5 vouchers. Online pre-orders started at 11 am on 23 April; each customer was allowed to order up to three sets. However, online sales was suspended within 80 minutes due to the overwhelming response. Subsequently, it resumed at about 7 pm the same day.31 It was reported that due to the crowd control measures implemented by McDonald’s, there were shorter queues during in-store sales of the first of the six toys, which started on 28 April.32 To minimise food wastage, customers who only wanted to collect the toys had the option of donating their meals to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF).33

1 Jan 2000: 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.34 The first fight due to this promotion takes place between a doctor and three others.35
2 Jan 2000: First report of long queues totalling about 250,000 to 300,000 customers for the soft toys.36
6 Jan 2000: Release of Hello Kitty pair dressed in Malay wedding outfits.37
13 Jan 2000: Release of toys in dressed in Korean wedding outfits. 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.38
25 Jan 2000: 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.39 More than 130 security personnel are hired by McDonald’s to patrol its outlets.40
27 Jan 2000: Release of Hello Kitty pair dressed in Japanese wedding outfits. Six people are arrested: three at McDonald’s 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.41
28 Jan 2000: 64 more Cisco guards are added to control unruly crowds at 24 outlets.42
1 Feb 2000: McDonald’s introduces a voucher system that entails the sale of vouchers to those who wish to purchase the Hello Kitty pair dressed in Chinese wedding outfits.43
30 May 2013: Release of Hello Kitty toys dressed in outfits from The Wizard of Oz. The McDelivery Hello Kitty toy, which is only available through McDelivery, is also released.
6 Jun 2013: Release of the Little Red Riding Hood Hello Kitty plush toys.
13 Jun 2013: Release of The Frog Prince Hello Kitty plush toys.
20 Jun 2013: Release of The Ugly Duckling Hello Kitty plush toys.
27 Jun 2013: Release of The Singing Bone Hello Kitty plush toys.44
23 Apr 2014: Online pre-order for the Hello Kitty Bubbly World Collector’s set begins.45
28 Apr 2014: Release of Kerokerokeroppi Hello Kitty plush toys.
5 May 2014: Release of My Melody Hello Kitty plush toys.
12 May 2014: Release of Osaru No Monkichi Hello Kitty plush toys.
19 May 2014: Release of PomPomPurin Hello Kitty plush toys.
26 May 2014: Release of Tuxedosam Hello Kitty plush toys.
2 Jun 2014: Release of Bad Badtz-maru Hello Kitty plush toys.46

Nureza Ahmad & Nor-Afidah Abd Rahman

1. “Buy for Charity’s Kitty,” New Paper, 30 December 1999, 8; Chong Chee Kin, “Seven Hurt in Rush for Hello Kitty Toys,” Straits Times, 14 January 2000, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Alan John, “Hello Kitty? Then, Goodbye, Golden Arches,” Straits Times, 19 January 2000, 48. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Sanrios Stable,” Straits Times, 30 January 1999, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Lea Wee and Lynn Lee, “Hello, What’s Fuss All About?” Straits Times, 16 January 2000, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
5. John, “Hello Kitty?” 
6. Trudy Lim, “Cute Cat, Ugly S’porean,” New Paper, 27 January 2000, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
7. “Kitty Chaos,” Straits Times, 28 December 2000, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “McDonald’s Explains Its Moves,” Straits Times, 2 February 2000, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Hong Xinyi, “Dear Miss Kitty I’m Angry. I’m Fed-Up,” New Paper, 14 January 2000, 17; John, “Hello Kitty?” 
10. Debbie Goh, “McDonald’s to Keep a Lid On Hello Kitty Frenzy,” Straits Times, 29 December 2000, H10. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “McDonald’s Explains Its Moves.”
12. Samanatha Santa Maria, “Long Queues for Cutie Kitty Collectibles,” Straits Times, 7 January 2000, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
13. L. H. Chua, “The Tragic-Comedy of Hello Kitty," Straits Times, 29 January 2000. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
14. Wee and Lee, “What’s Fuss All About?
15. Santa Maria, “Long Queues for Cutie Kitty Collectibles.” 
16. “Kitty Chaos”; Laurel Teo and Palden Tshering, “6 Held as Hello Kitty Queues Turn Ugly,” Straits Times, 28 January 2000, 3; Koh Boon Pin, “Kitty Mania Rages On,” Straits Times, 21 January 2000, 62. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Chong, “Seven Hurt in Rush.”
18. “7 Faint,” New Paper, 27 January 2000, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
19. K. T. Tan, “Hello Kitty Queues Disrupting Business,” Straits Times, 26 January 2000. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website) 
20. Teo and Tshering, “6 Held as Hello Kitty Queues Turn Ugly.”
21. Teo and Tshering, “6 Held as Hello Kitty Queues Turn Ugly”; John, “Hello Kitty?” 
22. John, “Hello Kitty?”; Tan, “Hello Kitty Queues Disrupting Business.” 
23. Koh, “Kitty Mania Rages On.”
24. Teo and Tshering, “6 Held as Hello Kitty Queues Turn Ugly”; “Hello Kitty, Goodbye Unruly Queues,” Straits Times, 4 February 2000, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
25. John, “Hello Kitty?
26. “Goodbye Unruly Queues.”
27. Goh, “McDonald’s to Keep a Lid”; “Taking the Queue from Singaporeans,” Straits Times, 9 August 2001, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
28. “McDonald’s Hello Kitty Fairy Tales Usher in a Season of Fun,” McDonald’s Singapore, accessed 26 April 2019.
29. Rachel Tan, “Cat Fights and Long Queues,” Straits Times, 28 June 2013, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Melissa Heng, “McDonald’s Hello Kitty Is Back in Singapore, Will Crazy Queues Return?” Straits Times, 23 April 2014. 
31. Lee Jian Xuan, “Online Mayhem over Hello Kitty,” Straits Times, 24 April 2014, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
32. Hoe Pei Shan, “Fast-Moving Queues Purrfect for Toy Sales,” Straits Times, 29 April 2014, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
33. Melody Zaccheus, “Chance for Extra Value Good Deed,” Straits Times, 27 April 2014, 20. (From NewspaperSG)
34. Wee and Lee, “What’s Fuss All About?”; Chong, “Seven Hurt in Rush.” 
35. Koh, “Kitty Mania Rages On.”
36. “McDonald’s Explains Its Moves.”
37. Santa Maria, “Long Queues for Cutie Kitty Collectibles.” 
38. Chong, “Seven Hurt in Rush”; Koh, “Kitty Mania Rages On.”
39. Tan, “Hello Kitty Queues Disrupting Business.” 
40. Koh, “Kitty Mania Rages On.”
41. Teo and Tshering, “6 Held as Hello Kitty Queues Turn Ugly.”
42. Teo and Tshering, “6 Held as Hello Kitty Queues Turn Ugly
43. “Goodbye Unruly Queues.”
44. McDonald’s Singapore, “McDonald’s Hello Kitty Fairy Tales.”
45. Lee, “Online Mayhem over Hello Kitty.” 
46. “McDonald’s Hello Kitty 40th Anniversary,” Nookmag, accessed 26 April 2019.

The information in this article is valid as at May 2019 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.



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