In response to an inquiry about two cartoonish-looking Native American characters that appeared to be part of a Happy Studio campaign, the McDonald’s corporation has respectfully apologized for the misstep, and said the characters never made their way out of France.
The characters were in the same style as the cast of HappyStudio.com, a website connected to McDonald's and aimed at kids. At HappyStudio, children create personal avatars that inhabit a world that is also home to Happy Meal boxes with arms, legs and personalities (cowboy, scientist, pirate, etc.)
According to Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, the Vice President of Global External Communications of the McDonald's Corporation, the characters were not ever destined to be a Happy Meal toy and immediate steps were taken to remove the image from restaurants in France.
In a direct letter to an ICTMN correspondent, Barker Sa Shekhem wrote:
I want to begin by emphasizing that we at McDonald’s value and respect all cultures—we have millions of customers and employees who represent diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
This is what we’ve learned: Basically, the picture in question was developed in France to be used as part of a children's card game featuring 30 characters. It was not a Happy Meal toy. Unfortunately the sensitivities around the use of this image within the French market were not fully appreciated at the time. The picture has not been used outside of France.
We have asked that immediate steps are taken to withdraw this picture from any restaurants in France. In addition we have required that our agency makes sure it is no longer available in any of our online channels. We apologize to those who were offended by this picture.
The American Indian Happy Meal characters depicted were "Happy Indian Chief," who wears a full feathered headdress while sitting on a rocking horse, and "Happy Eagle Eye," an archer whose braids are so long one of them is used as the string of its bow, which shoots a suction-cup-tipped arrow.
The original images, which were posted on a design website Design Taxi, received numerous negative complaints and the artists Alice Mounoury and Danae Bilheude, and artist Libellule removed the American Indian characters from their portfolio sites, although it was unclear whether the removal was a direct result of the complaints.