Of all the industries that COVID-19 has devastated, restaurants have been hit particularly hard. According to a September survey by the National Restaurant Association, one in every six eateries is closed permanently or for the “long term,” and 40% of restaurant operators say they might have to close their doors without additional relief from Washington.
While independent, “mom and pop” kitchens are struggling the most, even major QSR chains are struggling to cope with consumers staying home, ordering meals in, and preparing their own food.
In this gloomy environment, McDonald’s has found a ray of hope. Last month, the chain announced the Travis Scott Meal, in partnership with the chart-topping, Grammy-nominated recording artist, who has sold 45 million records in the US, and is considered a musical visionary. The meal included all of Travis’ favorites: a Quarter Pounder with cheese, bacon, onions and lettuce; medium fries with BBQ sauce; and a Sprite.
The meal retailed for $6, with franchisees receiving a $2 rebate from corporate to help subsidize the cost (typically $9). The promotion also included exclusive merchandise from Scott’s Cactus Jack label, and special branded apparel for McDonald’s crew members.
The result? Within a week, restaurants reported shortages of some of the meal’s key ingredients, such as Quarter Pounder beef, bacon, slivered onions and shredded lettuce. Demand was particularly high in Scott’s hometown of Houston, as well as Los Angeles. McDonald’s advised its franchisees that customers were coming in and ordering the meal in code, using catchphrases like “Cactus Jack sent me,” “It’s lit, Sicko Mode,” “The Fortnite guy burger” or “You know why I am here,” while playing Scott’s music.
The promotion ended on a Sunday, and the following day, McDonald’s introduced the J Balvin Meal, named for the popular reggaeton artist. His favorite meal—a Big Mac, fries with ketchup, and an Oreo McFlurry—will be available through Nov. 1. This time, pricing will vary by location, and if customers order on the McDonald’s app, they’ll get the Oreo McFlurry for free. McDonald’s crew members will once again wear special T-shirts designed by the artist, and the partnership promises “more surprises to come.”
In a tough operating environment, why did so many teens turn out for the Travis Scott Meal?
*It’s authentic. It’s not a typical example of a celebrity shilling an item they don’t care about, and have no previous connection to, like Kobe Bryant pitching McDonald’s then-new Big N’ Tasty hamburger nearly two decades ago. This has the benefit of being Scott’s actual, favorite meal. And how many spokespeople create a line of merchandise and uniforms for a promotional campaign?
*It’s a great value. The Travis Scott Meal probably wouldn’t have had such an impact if McDonald’s had priced it at, say, $10. But the chain took three popular, high-quality items from its regular menu; bundled them; sprinkled on a fair amount of stardust; and actually charged less for them. The idea was to get more Gen Z consumers in the door, and it worked like a charm.
*It offers celebrity access. Before last month, how many people knew that a multimillionaire who’s been on the cover of GQ, ate at McDonald’s -- and even had a go-to, favorite meal? The promotion offered an intimate, somewhat whimsical look at a cultural icon who’s well-known for his groundbreaking music, yet more guarded about his personal life. It reminded young consumers that almost everybody, including A-list celebrities, enjoys eating at McDonald’s, and gave them permission to do the same.
The Travis Scott Meal provides marketers with a low-cost, high-return recipe to reach Gen Z -- and a Sprite to wash it down.