Remember what a treat it was to get a McDonald’s Happy Meal? The very first thing you’d do, even before squabbling with your mom about the order of consumption (nugs pre-fries), is tear that house-shaped box open like a Rottweiler with a stuffed animal. WHICH TOY DID YOU GET!? It was the most cherished part of the experience—even if you did misplace your prize five minutes later.
For a brief moment, those beloved action figures, small bean-filled toys and shoddy digital games were in grave danger of becoming obsolete. In lieu of Happy Meal toys, McDonald’s began distributing plastic fitness trackers called Step-It. The Fitbit-like device measured the steps of the person wearing it. The trackers had only been on the market a few days, though, when reports of skin irritations associated with wearing the band arose.
“We have taken this swift and voluntary step after receiving limited reports of potential skin irritations that may be associated from wearing the band,” company spokeswoman Terri Hickey said in the statement. “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our customers and we are fully investigating this issue.”
The action-figure-to-action-tracker transition was planned to run for 4 weeks in the US and Canada, but was cut short. When Casey Collyar of Arkansas posted on Facebook last week that her child was burned by the Happy Meal toy, the post was shared more than 100,000 times.
McDonald’s Step-It fitness “toy” was part of an image overhaul to help position the Golden Arches as a health-conscious brand. It’s no secret the chain has a bad rep for contributing to unhealthy behavior and they’ve made changes to their menu in an attempt to compete with the Paneras and Starbucks of the fast-food industry via a variety of initiatives, including offering new side options like apple slices and Go-Gurt yogurt.
McDonald’s corporate chef Jessica Foust told Business Insider in July, “A lot of people have assumptions about what McDonald’s food is.” She noted that the fast-food industry is challenged with an unfortunate stigma.
Whether this was an authentic attempt at promoting health or a crafty marketing maneuver is unclear, but either way it looks like it’s back to the drawing board for McDonald’s.