lo-res_1815r-28162-sWhen McDonald’s started putting Step-It trackers into Happy Meals, the idea was to help its young consumers be healthier. Instead, the child-sized fitness trackers created a minor health crisis, with a wealth of reports that the band was causing skin irritation on the children’s wrists. Thus the fast food chain had to pull the toys quickly, then figure out how to deal with the negative fallout of its attempt to do something positive.

Offering a toy that might help encourage fitness is just the latest effort by McDonald’s to address concerns about the health implications of its menu items. For example, it decreased the serving size for the French fries included in Happy Meals, while also offering apple slices and yogurt as healthier alternatives.

But the exercise tool giveaway was different, and not in a good way. Rather than focusing on delicious food, the Step-It tracker applied an exercise option recommended for adults directly to children. Yet no scientific evidence offers support that exercise programs designed to track steps really work well in terms of increasing children’s health. As a simple issue, the gait of children is naturally different, suggesting the need for disparate technology to measure the way they normally move.

The inclusion also may have created some brand confusion. Happy Meals traditionally have contained toys, such that the young consumers who received the fitness trackers likely regarded the wearable technology more as a toy than as an impetus to exercise more. Considering its inexpensive price, the Step-It offered quite limited functionality as well.

Thus far, there has been no word if McDonald’s plans to try to provide the fitness trackers again, this time with wristbands that do not irritate children’s skin. But the chain clearly senses the continued pressure to help protect and ensure the health of its customers, especially the youngest ones. Unfortunately, the embarrassing outcome of this experiment may make it even harder for the company to reposition itself as a viable alternative, even for those diners seeking healthy foods that fit well in their active lifestyles.

Discussion Question:

  1. Were Step-It fitness trackers included in Happy Meals a good idea for McDonald’s? Why or why not?

Source: Matthew Stern, Retail Wire, August 19, 2016