Disney, Burger King, and McDonald’s in the 1990’s

Disney, Burger King, and McDonald’s in the 1990’s


Today when a big tentpole film is on the horizon
we don’t blink twice at the elements of it’s marketing that we’ve come to expect. Trailers, commercials, Happy meal toys. It’s all run of the mill. Yet for something so forgettable as a kids
meal toy, they were a pretty big deal for the parties involved in the 1990’s. For Burger King in particular it was a rare
opportunity to take a shot at their perpetual foes, McDonald’s. The Walt Disney Company had a brief history
with McDonald’s that only dated back a few years to a promotional campaign to help advertise
Disney’s upcoming attraction, Splash Mountain in 1989. Due to delays in the ride’s construction, it was a rocky start for a relationship that was bound to dissolve just as quickly as it had begun. As it was reported after the fact, Disney
and McDonald’s relationship began to deteriorate by 1990 and 1991. Disney had supposedly pitched a kid’s meal
tie-in for their action film, The Rocketeer, that McDonald’s rejected outright. They also had a reported falling out over
the promotional tie-in for the film Dick Tracy. McDonald’s, being a worldwide leader in the
fast food industry was in a unique position to push back against Disney when they weren’t
happy with a deal. So when it came time to look for a fast-food
partner to work with for their upcoming animated feature, Beauty and Beast, Disney instead
turned to McDonald’s competitor, Burger King, who jumped at the offer. It was a win-win for the two companies. Burger King, perpetually trailing behind McDonald’s,
saw it as an opportunity to close the gap between themselves and their number one fast
food rival. As for Disney, beyond the help the tie-ins
would have with marketing their films, they’d find themselves having an easier time working
with Burger King. Being so eager to capitalize on the partnership,
Burger King was extremely open to running with Disney’s ideas and didn’t resist
their proposals the way McDonald’s did. After all, this partnership was somewhat of
a gift that fell into their lap, and had they given Disney a hard time Disney might have
just moved onto another fast food chain or just back over to McDonald’s. Rather than signing into a long-term agreement,
Disney and Burger King approached each tie-in promotion on a case by case basis, starting
in 1991 with Beauty and Beast which happened to also be promoted through Pizza Hut as well. From there the tie-ins would range from new
films like Aladdin and the Nightmare Before Christmas to re-releases of classics like
Pinocchio, to even the 20th anniversary of Walt Disney World. The following year Burger King ended up spending
a reported $25 million dollars on the Aladdin promotion which involved selling 20 million
character toys. They were gambling a lot of money, but the
payoff was just as large. You see, the whole reason these promotional
tie-ins were so coveted by fast food chains was because of something called the multiplier
effect. Commercial: “Hey! Right now Burger King has these cool Toy Story
puppets. They’re from the new Disney movie! You can collect all four, $1.99 each with
any Kid’s Club meal. Only at Burger King! And bring the folks, you might have your hands
full.” In many cases the toys were sold for a set
price, usually between $1.50 and $1.99 along side the normal price of a kids meal. On top of that the children who wanted these
toys were typically being brought to Burger King by their parents who often purchased
something for themselves as well. As a result Burger King reported in 1995 that
checks that included a $1.99 kid’s meal toy were averaging around $7.00 in total. Expand that out to 20 million toys and, well,
Burger King was easily getting their money’s worth out of the partnership. Not only that, but the structure of the tie-in
spread out the earnings. Rather than selling all of the character toys
at once, Burger King would introduce a new toy every week, ensuring that those looking
to collect all four would have to keep coming back to the restaurant, and usually that meant
they’d continue to buy more food. And that was just the beginning. As the Disney Decade progressed and the company
grew, so to did the promotional events over at Burger King. In 1994 they struck gold with the promotional
tie-ins for The Lion King, which ended up selling 15 million toys in just the first
two weeks of the summer-long program. In fact, the promotion was so successful that
Burger King would later point out that customer traffic increased by 19% that summer. It wasn’t pushing them past McDonald’s,
but it was helping them along just enough for McDonald’s to take notice and do something
about it. That next year McDonald’s responded by launching
a series of their own promotions, and while they didn’t have movie toys to use as ammunition,
they did have their prices. In January of 1995 they lowered the price
of their Big Mac to 95 cents, and the following months saw other key menu items reduced in
price. But that year Burger King would still secure
the tie-in rights to Pocahontas and Toy Story. Toy Story was an especially large campaign,
estimated to run at a cost of $45 million and with 35 million toys sold. Burger King was in a good position. In fact they were in too good of a position, because McDonald’s started to make it known that they were interested in working with Disney again. Now one might think that the deal with Burger
King was working well, and that Disney wouldn’t have a reason to rock the boat, but there
was an appeal to switching back to McDonald’s. While they were still the number one chain,
they they hungry for the partnership, which presented the chance that they’d be easier
to work with this time around. On top of that, they were still the number
one chain. With nearly 19,000 locations across 93 countries,
McDonald’s offered far more promotional opportunity than Burger King, which for comparison,
only had 9,000 locations across 56 nations. At first McDonald’s dipped their toes back
into the water by bidding on a couple of one-off promotions that Burger King declined, with
James and the Giant Peach and the live-action remake of 101 Dalmatians. However Disney’s previous few years of successful
films, with a little pinch of competitive envy, put them in the perfect position to
sell a lucrative and long-term deal to McDonald’s. So in 1996 Disney would switch things up and
sign a 10-year long contract with McDonald’s that spanned beyond just toy tie-ins, and
would also include locations in the Disney parks and even a ride sponsorship. Disney and McDonald’s had a long and profitable
future to look forward to, but suddenly Burger King was left out in the cold. Burger King expressed their disappointment
in the decision but made it clear that they weren’t worried about continuing on without
Disney. The movie tie-in concept was more than proven
by that point and there were plenty of other fish in the sea. So the following year Burger King would partner
with Universal to help promote the upcoming sequel to Jurassic Park, The Lost World, and
just a few years after that they’d find themselves signing a deal with Dreamworks
Animation to help promote their films. That partnership would last for seven years
before it was ended. Unfortunately it was ended because Dreamworks
was moving on to partner with a different fast food chain… McDonald’s. It was a tug of war that started with Burger
King in second place, and ended with Burger King in second place. It was a fruitful six years that, as luck
would have it, allowed Burger King to capitalize on some of Disney’s best films of the era. And it was a stark reminder of how quickly a good deal can come to an end in the world of business. I want to thank you all for watching! If you’d like to learn more about the larger history between McDonald’s and Disney that stretches all the way back to the days of
Walt himself, be sure to go check out Defunctland’s episode on the subject. It’s a great look back at the full picture
in which this three-way tango with Burger King, McDonald’s, and Disney was just a
blink of the eye

100 thoughts on “Disney, Burger King, and McDonald’s in the 1990’s

  1. If you liked the video and would like to learn more, be sure to check out Kevin's video on the larger history between McDonald's and Disney over at Defunctland! – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRNaapiBU7Q

  2. I was born in 95 and remember going to burger king as a kid with my family and getting a Randal toy from monsters inc and a fake crystal necklace that lit up to look like the one from Atlantis the lost empire, so it's cool to know the history behind it

  3. I’m disappointed in this comment section. The Defunctland video had several comments about Rick and Morty and the Szechwan Sauce. I was hoping for comments on the “Burger King Foot Lettuce” meme, but didn’t.

  4. I love defunctland but I feel your videos are easier to follow, Kevin spends to much time getting into politics about Mike

  5. Am I the only person that noticed that the newspaper article about the Jurassic Park 2 had a picture of “The Land Before Time” happy meal toys.

  6. Burger King: I'm outta here! There's plenty of fish in the sea!

    McDonald's: Did he mean that metaphorically or, uh…?
    Disney: shrugs

    Burger King reveals Shark Tale toys.

  7. I kinda feel sad for burger king.. always getting screwed over by McDonald's 😅 honestly, I don't like either of these fastfood chains..the food is rather gross
    I did have a friend who was obsessed with collecting the toys with her mom.. like they ate happy meals every weekend 😰
    Though when I was little, my dad used to steal the toy and then save them all to give to me for Christmas.. as little gifts cuz we were poor. Which actually was a pretty good idea 😏 but also a bit mean if you know your suppose to get a toy?

  8. If this only half of the story, I feel like I should only leave half of a comment. To see the rest of my comment where I talk about my feelings on fast food and disney, go check out defunctland's video.

  9. Burger King may have lost the Disney burger war but they did have sick LOTR cups and I’m pretty sure they were the ones with the golden Pokémon cards in the poke balls.

  10. When is the next theme park tube event? I want to see you all and all yall's shenanigans again. Or maybe just a podcast together.

  11. Oh My God, I OWNED SO MANY OF THESE TOYS! I was an adult through most of this time period, but I ABSOLUTELY LOVED most of these and, as a college student, a Happy Meal or Kids Meal was about all I could afford for lunch anyway! And a LOT of these were surprisingly decent quality toys, or collectibles (particularly the glasses, as I STILL have two of the Pocohantas glasses somewhere in the back of one of my shelves, 24 years later!)

  12. I remember the McDonald’s at animal kingdom in the corner of Dino land, of course they had dinosaur nuggets..and of course they were AMAZING

  13. The Burger King toys were such better higher quality than the McDonald's ones. Although I did like the McDonald's little mermaid toys and rescuers down under movie cameras.

  14. Not Disney related but my husband and I ate what felt like a ton of BK's Kids Club Meals in the late 90s to ensure our 2 children got ALL of the Pokemon toys!

  15. I felt that the Burger King toys were better than McDonalds. I also enjoyed Burger Kings additional items you could buy. (Like the LOTR and Star Trek glasses).

  16. I ate a lot of Burger King, burgers and nuggets just to get those toys as a kid in the 90’s sad that Burger King isn’t what it use to be. it was actually good back then.

  17. You know, there's a third variable here–soft-drink sales. Disney, at least in the US, went to an exclusive parks deal with Coca-Cola in 1990. They probably wouldn't have found it as easy to flip between McDonald's and Burger King partnerships if Burger King hadn't also recently flipped from selling Pepsi to Coke. (Though I guess they did deal with Pizza Hut at some point, and Pizza Hut is on team Pepsi.)

  18. The contrast between The Rescuers Down Under's animation and the BK promo's animation budget is massive, and all too common in the time.

  19. Being born in late 93, Im young enough to find the BK partnership surreal, since i only remember the time Disney and McD were synonimous, and essentialy defined my childhood. I can't hate this stuff.

    And The Lost World in BK is probably one of my earliest memories.

  20. “And then, I was carried out just LIKE Quasimodo!”
    Thank you Lindsay Ellis, for forcing that line into my brain to remain for all time

  21. This concept is great! You and Kevin covering different aspects of the same story should definitely be done more often!!!

  22. I never did get any of these Happy Meal/Kid's Meals when my family took me to these fast food joints, mostly because I never really asked for them. We were just there for a quick meal, not some cheap toys.

  23. One thing interesting I realize in all of this is the role NICKELODEON had in this rivalry. It seemed that throughout this history whichever fast food chain Disney was partering with, Nickelodeon would heavily partner with its rival.

    Around 1990, when Disney was still partnering with McDonalds for its promotions, Nickelodeon partnered with Pizza Hut for promotions. This included the original incarnation of Nickelodeon magazine as well as toy tie-ins with Eureka's Castle. Once Disney began partnering with Burger King for promotions, Nickelodeon then begun parterning with McDonalds. This included the "McWorld" campaign with ads heavily shown on Nick as well as some sweepstakes. Once Disney went back to McDonalds later in the 90s, Nickelodeon then went to Burger King as its main fast food promotional partner. This included toys for various Nicktoons (especially Rugrats), the Kids' Choice Awards, and even a Nickelodeon green slime dipping sauce for the chicken tenders.

    Also don't forget that in 1999, after Disney had already defected to McDonalds was when Burger King had one of its biggest promotional partnerships yet with a kids' property, POKEMON. Along with that, Burger King was also frequently partnerning with Warner Brothers around the late 1990s, with toys for DC Superheroes (particularly Batman and Superman) along with various shows on Kids' WB. It was also around this time that McDonalds partnered with Marvel superheroes for Happy Meal promotions, although this was still over a decade before Disney had bought Marvel. It just goes to show that if a fast food restaurant parters with a property, the rival restaurant will then partner with the rival property.

  24. I too came from Defunctland, and I remember getting notifications that you and Kevin did literally the same topic.

  25. In the UK a lot of these movies (Beauty and the Beast, Toy Story and The Lion King for example) did receive McDonald's happy meal toys.

  26. Great informative video! Thanks! The land before time toys with the Lost World article made me giggle.

  27. Burger King had better Disney tie ins. The puppets for Toy Story and Hunchback were favorites of mine as a kid

  28. 7:54 i had one of those toys! used to play with it in the tub! (even though i didn't care for the movie)

    i never had one of the burger king disney toys because i was a baby/toddler when they did those promotions, but i DID have a plush bartok from their anastasia promotion i carried everywhere when i was little.

  29. I remember my dad taking me in his truck to Burger King one evening specifically to get one of those Toy Story Woody dolls… Weird

  30. I remember working at WDW in 99-00, there was a “fries” cart from McDs, next to Splash Mountains. I believe is gone now.

  31. I clicked on this video specifically because I remember going to Burger King all the time as a kid for the Toy Story toys.

  32. The only fast food toy I only was really keen on in the day was when McDonald’s sponsored Inspector Gadget. You had to collect I don’t how many pieces to complete the official Inspector. Each one connected to the figure and added another tool/ability for him to have.

  33. MacDonald: let work together again
    Disney: you couldn’t live with your own failure where did it bring you back to me

  34. McDonald's: rejects Dick Tracy.
    Burger King: Accepts Alladin, The Lion King, The hunchback of Notre Dame.
    “Burger King was more willing to accept anything Disney would push them"
    Yeah riiight

  35. Dang, 90s was great time to grow up in ,I remember going to Burger King down the street from my house to get the wild wild West sunglasses then the dragon Ball z statues came with a card , McDonald's with their put together inspector gadget action figure and the Pokemon toys getting a Pokemon with a golden card in it, hit clips, rugrat watches, even the backstreet boys we're selling their CDs at Burger King.

  36. That newspaper at 7:11 has land before time characters but says it is promoting jurassic Park the lost world… Interesting

  37. I love Burger King because of the Disney tie ins. So my favourite fast food company was screwed because some other fast food company who treated Disney badly said they are sorry?! How unfair

  38. It's crazy bc I could have swore my beauty and the beast hunchback and lion King cups came from mcdonalds. Crazy. Does anyone know who sold the Pokémon toys?

  39. When the word "dissolve" was brought up, I was hoping it would be followed by the simile "dissolve like a McDonald's napkin."

  40. Sega and has a partner ship with mcdonalds

    Nintendo goes strong with the partner ship with both mcd's and burger king

    Nickelodeon and viacom still has partner ship with BK and mcd's

    Disney bought it back with mcd's partnership in 2018

    Capcom needs a partnership with only burgerking to release some favourite toys from their favourite capcom games

  41. $1.99 a toy? I am curious if those toys have appreciated in value since then. only because they are collectables. I also wonder if there will ever be a market for those toys and they value will just keep rising up with time to come

  42. Honestly, I love both Mcdonald's and BurgerKing and Disney so I never knew this. I mainly like classic movies but the remakes are okay. I someday wish to visit Disneyworld and Disneyland.

  43. I came to this video in hopes that I could find some imagery of that stupid Burger King kid with the goggles, because I was half-convinced that I was imagining that ridiculous era of crap in my mind.

    Thanks for making me feel sane again.

  44. Oh my gosh, the Burger King Kids Club! Seeing those characters took me straight back to 1993. I definitely had a crush on Kid Vid when I was about 7.

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