Creator of the Happy Meal says KC makes him happy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Advertising legend Bob Bernstein has done it all from right here in Kansas City.

He's the creator of the Happy Meal, he took a little known video business and made it a "Blockbuster" and helped Walmart become the single biggest business in the world.

"Those are the original ones right there," he pointed out to NBC Action News.

Bernstein gets, well, downright happy when he talks about his first iconic advertising idea.

He has them on display in his office, "Back there are the original three designs of the Happy Meals."

Bernstein surrounds himself with ad icons in his office at Bernstein-Rein.

It is the 10th largest independent ad agency in the country, overlooking the Plaza and downtown Kansas City.

In the late 60s, McDonald's wanted to bring kids back to the restaurant chain, so the young marketing father took particular notice of his son Steve who was 10 years old at the time. He watched as his son ate a bowl of Fruit Loops at breakfast.

Bob Bernstein recalls, "He'd be reading the box every morning and I noticed it every morning and I said 'Steve, why do you do that?' and he just said, 'It's something to do'". It gave me the idea that if kids had something that they could look at while they were eating they would be entertained."

Bernstein smiled. "It was pretty successful."

Bernstein has had the magic touch with a long list of businesses: Wal-Mart, Hostess, Petsmart, Commerce Bank and Blockbuster Video.

He remembers the slogan Bernstein-Rein coined, "Make it a Blockbuster night."

He also conceptualized another idea: Beauty Brands, the salon-spa store chain.

He said came up with the idea chain because he said women were not served the way they should be.

Bernstein said women needed "one stop shopping—all the services: hair, nails service—everything they'd want under one roof."

His sons, Steve and David, now run the two businesses. However, they said their dad, or Bob as they sometimes publically call him, still runs the show.

Steve looked at his dad, "One of the things that drive me every day is showing him I'm capable and that we're doing a good job."

Bernstein started his empire in 1964 with just $2,500.

The now multi-millionaire a few years ago pledged his assets to secure as much as $34 million to build the West Edge Project.

He had to file bankruptcy on that project before his elaborate vision for the west side Country Club Plaza building was finished.

Bernstein said, "I wanted to leave a legacy, but it was bad decisions and some bad advice."

But this grandfather of 10 said he does not stop to think about where he has been but where he is going.

Reflecting on his grandchildren, "I'll have to watch them because they'll probably have more ideas that'll be something for the future."

He said he knows it will have be something that makes him - happy.

Bob Bernstein will put his 900-piece advertising collection on display at his new advertising icon museum in the Downtown Crossroads district in September.

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