“…technological features that enable users to serve as sources of information can influence persuasion not only by increasing users’ agency, identity, and self-determination, but also by ensuring that the content is more relevant and involving.”
— (Sunder et al., 2012, p393)
For my analysis, I visited and interacted with the McDonald’s HappyMeal.com website. The fast-food conglomerate puts in the center of the audience attention its happy meal – a product designed to be consumed by children. The Happy Meal is personified and is in the center of all games, activities, toys, videos for the mere purpose of interacting with the younger audience.
As kids play the games, they “trigger cognitive heuristics” discussed by Sundar et al in his paper. The audience is stimulated through interactivity and engagement with the characters (in this case Happy Meal) thus shaping the user’s attitude towards this character. Happy Meal becomes the center focus of a child’s attention when they come to the store and of course they want it and nothing else.
HappyMeal.com assessed modality – the website consists of four major sections: Toys, Create, Games and Videos. Toys section provides details and explanation videos of how Happy Meal toys work. The creative section allows the audience to draw or color digital prints, as well as offer some ways on how to creatively reuse or repurpose the plastic jars and other pieces of the meal, instead of being thrown away. The website offers several on-screen games, simple, but almost addicting games, tailored to the season. Finally, the videos section offer some entertaining insights and fun bits of content that promote the Happy Meal’s happiness. The sections are modal subsets of the website and funnel the audience by giving them the “choice” and “freedom” of what to do next.
Source Interactivity is expressed through the ability to change the subject at any time, to switch the theme and to jump from toys to creative pages, to games to videos. As the audience browsing the website get pulled into the world and immersive experience of the Happy Meal. Without any engagement with the contents of the Happy Meal, the audience (in this case children) familiarize with the product and associate with it to the point of higher engagement that causes the desire to purchase and consume.
Last but not least, the message interactivity of the HappyMeal.com. The website is highly interactive, the use of colors, the ingenious design, the fonts, create an atmosphere of happiness. As the website engages the audience, users begin to process information more centrally (Sundar) and feel motivated to explore, play, draw, as they utilize those options, they develop more positive attitudes towards the Happy Meal and, as a result, would more than likely want to visit the already familiar McDonalds (as brand is saturated through the website) and purchase the somehow already familiar product.
As Sundar et al.’s research findings, vividness changes users perception of the message or source. The use of self-representation through avatar associates the user with the subject of advertising, in this case, Happy Meal, as it runs through the halls of the castle maneuvering around the ghosts.
Even the self-presence of the user in the HappyMeal environment is possible. Happy Meal boxes that transform into VR headsets and there is a section on the website that asks the users to download the app for virtual reality experience. As to the smallest detail, the website is consistent with the Sundar research findings of the influence of technology on persuasion. The immersive experience, modalities portray the content in a vivid form allowing it to resonate with the user/customer/buyer, resulting in the increase of the purchase.
Thematic relevance and resulting Persuasiveness:
The brand is saturated throughout the website, the games and the product itself. From the first introduction to the purchase, McDonald’s provides a strong connection allowing the audience to grow its attitude for the brand and consequently for the product, regardless of whether the product was ethically harvested, produced and delivered to the mouth of the customer. McDonald’s can afford to use these very persuasive tactics and advertise to the audience and if I did not know better, I’d definitely consider consuming the Happy Meal after spending an hour or two on the HappyMeal.com.
Evaluation: The positive consequences of persuasive technology is the ability to create a positive happy environment and lead consumer from the first introduction to the purchase of the product. The negative aspect is regardless of the ethical impact persuasive technology can be used to do some damage if the product somehow harmful to the customer or the environment, thus contributing to the degradation of the society as we know it towards consumption by consumers and the love of the profit by producers.