McDonald’s Pokémon Promotion Taken Over by Scalpers and Aggressive Adults

Pokémon cards have invaded McDonald's, but you may never have the chance to buy any thanks to scalpers, collectors, and content creators.

Photo: Nintendo

In case you haven’t heard, Pokémon has been experiencing a bit of a mainstream popularity resurgence ahead of the franchise’s 25th anniversary. While no aspect of the brand has “escaped” renewed interest, one of the biggest beneficiaries has been the Pokémon TCG. That being the case, it only makes sense that McDonald’s recently decided to launch a Happy Meal promotion featuring collectible Pokémon cards.

The promotion is, on paper, rather simple. Various McDonald’s stores have recently started serving Happy Meals in special Pikachu containers. The container is cute enough, but the real prize is the pack of Pokémon TCG cards located inside. Each pack contains four of 50 cards (which includes base cards and their “holographic” variants) that feature starter Pokémon from various generations. The cards are specially marked and feature some other (relatively minor) differences, but for the most part, they resemble the real deal.

It’s a clever, well-timed, and overall enjoyable promotion that many fans have been praising ever since it started to roll out earlier this month. From those who want to reconnect to their nostalgic love of Pokémon to those with children who are just getting into the Pokémon TCG scene, the reaction to this concept has generally been glowing.

While many people are in love with this idea, the practicalities of the promotion are causing headaches as fans everywhere scramble to beat scalpers who are gaming the system by acquiring as many cards as possible.

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Yes, much like the PS5 and Xbox Series X, scalpers have shorted supplies of McDonald’s Pokémon cards. How? Well, the most popular methods involve exploiting McDonald’s own rules (or lack thereof). For instance, most locations don’t seem to impose a limit on how many Happy Meals you can buy, so you can often simply buy as much food as you want while chasing a particular card.

However, the most prolific scalpers seem to be taking advantage of the fact that some McDonald’s locations actually let you buy the card packs without buying a meal and, in some cases, seem to have been willing to sell entire containers of card packs regardless of whether or not a meal was purchased. That (along with likely cases of theft) seems to be how we ended up with instances such as this:

Early results show that there is money to be made by selling these cards. While a pack of Pokémon cards purchased directly from McDonald’s will set you back a few dollars (depending on your location), there are eBay listings for individual packs going for as high as $15-$20. More importantly, individual cards (most notably the Pikachu cards) are currently commanding prices as high as $50-$100.

It’s not just the scalpers who are ruining the experience, though. While there’s nothing wrong with adults getting in on this fun (it is the series’ 25th anniversary after all), some are taking advantage of their free time and disposable income to buy all (or most of the cards) at a particular location before anyone else has the chance. They’re not necessarily selling the cards, but they are trying to get as many packs as possible in order to collect all 50 (or just one particular card). Others are just using the promotion to create YouTube videos and streaming content.

The “ethics” of this approach are debatable. Right now, buyers are hitting every card shop, online outlet, and trading forum as they try to buy as many Pokémon cards as they can to either bolster their personal collection or profit off the trading card game’s growing market. It happens all the time, but many are noting that the fact McDonald’s isn’t a card shop and isn’t currently imposing a global limit on how many meals/cards you can buy at once. That means that there are many people (especially children) who don’t even have the chance to buy a pack of cards or (in rarer cases) a Happy Meal. As you can imagine, that kind of spoils the fun.

One thing that most people seem to agree on is that the practice of buying large quantities of Happy Meals just for the cards is unacceptable. In fact, there are many stories of buyers who decided to give the food away or otherwise simply try to purchase the cards alone when they are buying in bulk.

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We’ll see if McDonald’s steps in to impose some kind of universal restrictions designed to curb the madness, but for the time being, be sure to ask yourself how many Pokémon cards you really need, don’t ruin someone’s day just because you see them as competition for your cards, and whatever you do, don’t throw away boxes of food in the pursuit of a shiny piece of paper.