SXSW Attendees Can Paint Their Own Virtual Reality Happy Meal Box

Using VR to show 'the future of fun'

Headshot of Marty Swant

A new virtual reality program McDonald's is debuting at South by Southwest this week has the crowds of tech and agency people immersing themselves into one of the brand's most iconic products: the Happy Meal.

Using an experience built for the HTC Vive, users who visit the McDonald's lounge near the Austin Convention Center can immerse themselves in a world where they're tasked with painting a gigantic Happy Meal box with gobs of virtual reality paint.

Unless they have kids—or have had one of those occasional days where they feel a compulsion to be a kid at heart—it's quite unlikely that the majority of SXSW attendees have recently interacted with a Happy Meal. However, that hasn't stopped around 1,200 people from trying the program. Dale Carman, CCO at Groove Jones, said the goal was using VR to show "the future of fun."

"When I think of McDonald's and fun, I think of a Happy Meal," Carman said. "In my mind, then it was like 'What if we were inside a Happy Meal? What's inside a Happy Meal?' And then it grew from there: We could be inside a Happy Meal. What could we do? And the idea of being at Southby led to this becoming a performance art piece and everyone gets to be a performer. Everyone can be an artist."

This isn't the first VR play by McDonald's. Late last month, McDonald's restaurants across Sweden began distributing Happy Meal boxes that can turn into a VR headset reminiscent of Google Cardboard. The program, dubbed "Happy Goggles," allows users to play a virtual reality skiing game.

"I think with virtual reality we're always looking for experiences for our consumers with emerging technologies and how those experiences can be on the forefront of the new definition of what's fun," said DeLu Jackson, corporate vp of global brand engagement at McDonald's.

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.