It’s an effort that’s been in the works for the better part of five years, says Tariq Hassan, the restaurant’s director of marketing and customer experience.
“We lost our connection with our customer,” Hassan said of McDonald’s place in popular culture a few years ago. “And because of that, ultimately, we lost the sense of ‘I love it’.”
A nationwide listening tour helped McDonald’s better understand what fans wanted. This led to the Favorite Orders campaign, which helped highlight the must-have orders of famous celebrities. The campaign’s debut in 2019 with rapper Travis Scott proved so popular that it caused a shortage of McDonald’s famous Quarter Pounder.
When Hassan joined McDonald’s, he pushed the brand to connect even more with popular culture.
“You can be iconic, but not always culturally relevant,” Hassan says. “There are a lot of brands that are iconic, but then blend into the culture.”
A tweet shared in 2020 helped inspire an effort that McDonald’s continues to this day. The brand’s account created a message saying “One day you ordered a Happy Meal for the last time and you didn’t even know it.” It received over 24,000 likes and 5,000 retweets, catching the attention of the McDonald’s team.
“And we thought, ‘What’s under there?’” Hassan says. “It really is a loss of childhood.”
The result is a Happy Meal for adults made in collaboration with streetwear brand Cactus Plant Flea Market. While there were no new menu items in the combo – it was just a 10-piece Big Mac or Chicken McNuggets with a soda and fries – the Happy Meal style box and inclusion of he “collectible figurine” of McDonald’s retro mascots Grimace, the Hamburglar and Birdie has caused a frenzy.
The box quickly sold out in many locations across the country, and some opportunistic resellers began listing the plastic toys on eBay for thousands of dollars.
McDonald’s has embraced limited-edition collaborations with popular streetwear brands.
Jerritt Clark | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
“It was a cultural shift for us,” Hassan says. “You can imagine when you launch something like Cactus Plant Flea Market and you sell out in 12 days on what is supposed to be a 30 day promotion. We had to turn around and spend time with our franchisees to familiarize them with the fact that ‘It’s ok, you’re exhausted.'”
Since then, McDonald’s has doubled down on its streetwear efforts. Over the summer, McDonald’s launched a limited-edition clothing line with British skate brand PALACE and this month teamed up with New York artist Kerwin Frost for another Happy Meal-style combo with limited edition collectibles.
McDonald’s approach to these collaborations – with limited-edition items and pop-up shops – was designed to create a sense of urgency more often found in the sneaker industry.
“When we developed these products, the intention was to be much more of a shoe drop culture than a traditional promotion,” says Hassan. “We’re a little more like StockX than a traditional (quick-service) restaurant.”
So far, the plan seems to be working: Collectible McNugget Buddies from the Kerwin Frost Box have already hit Ebay, with some sellers asking for hundreds of dollars.
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