- McDonald's partnership with Travis Scott was a massive success for the fast-food giant, even though the chain did not have to add a single item to the menu with the launch of the "Travis Scott Meal."
- Dunkin's "The Charli" and Chipotle's "Guac is extra but so is Miley burrito" are other "new" celebrity menu items that exclusively used options already available at the chains.
- These marketing ploys help fast-food chains harness the power of celebrity and excitement over a new menu item, without the costs or complications associated with adding something to the menu.
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McDonald's struck gold when the fast-food giant teamed up with Travis Scott earlier this year.
The "Travis Scott Meal" was so successful that some locations ran out of Quarter Pounder ingredients, something that had not happened when meatpacking plants shuttered earlier in the pandemic. Scott's line of merchandise swiftly sold out. Analysts applauded the deal, which helped McDonald's reach Gen Z customers.
Read more: McDonald's is the chain most likely to thrive in the months and years to come as restaurants scramble to recover from the pandemic, analysts say
Perhaps the most impressive part of the plan was that it didn't require McDonald's to add a single item to the menu. The so-called "Travis Scott Meal" was a Quarter Pounder with cheese, bacon, and lettuce, medium fries with BBQ Sauce, and a Sprite — all well-known, existing menu items. Yet, Scott's name was enough to make the chain start running out of burgers.
"His ability to kind of see where culture is going and have a hand in where culture is going is really unique," McDonald's Chief Marketing Officer Morgan Flatley told Business Insider in September. "Then you couple that with his huge followership and his fans, social-media footprint, and … 3 billion streams. He just has an incredible audience."
McDonald's partnership with Scott paved the way for a new type of celebrity-inspired menu item, both at McDonald's and other chains, including Chipotle and Dunkin'.
Why the new celebrity menu item makes sense in 2020
Many restaurants pared down their menus in 2020, with McDonald's among the chains that cut less popular items like salads and grilled chicken from the menu. During the pandemic, chains' drive-thru business was more important than ever. Having fewer menu items available helps speed up service and makes operations easier for workers.
At the same time, new and limited-time offerings create buzz and a sense of urgency among potential customers. When a new item hits menus, it helps make the chain feel more relevant. And, if the menu item is only going to be there for a few months, it helps convince people that now is the time to visit.
The new era of celebrity menu items, such as the Travis Scott Meal, allows chains to harness the buzz of a new menu item without actually adding anything to menu.
McDonald's followed up its partnership with Scott with a collaboration with reggaeton star J Balvin. According to Flatley, McDonald's wanted to work with stars like Scott to win over younger customers. According to Flatley, people under the age of 34 are "becoming more and more challenging for brands to reach."
"How they engage with media is different," Flatley said. "They look to recommendations much more than any other generation has. They're very reliant on social media. They're very reliant on their friends."
'The Charli' cold brew and the 'Guac is extra but so is Miley burrito'
McDonald's isn't alone in rolling out celebrity menu items in 2020.
In December, Chipotle rolled out its own celebrity menu item inspired by singer Miley Cyrus. The dish was called the "Guac is extra but so is Miley burrito" — and, of course, only used ingredients already found at Chipotle. Chipotle previously launched a challenge on TikTok in November, in which three winners had their orders added to the app as official menu items.
Dunkin' debuted The Charli, named after TikTok star Charli D'Amelio, in September. The cold brew beverage only used ingredients that were already available at the chain. However, it still drove a 57% increase in app downloads compared to the previous 90 days and significantly boosted cold brew sales, according to UBS.
"Certainly, the drink had a lot of popularity with Gen Z, which obviously is super important," Drayton Martin, Dunkin's vice president of brand stewardship, recently told Business Insider. "You need to continue to bring younger people into the brand family if you want to stay healthy."
"Also, the younger generations are actually bellwethers that then cascade to the loser Gen Xers who are still desperately clinging onto coolness — not that I'm describing myself or anything," Martin added.
Martin said that Dunkin' is always scheming and playing around with different options as it considers future partnerships. Like Flatley at McDonald's, she said that Dunkin' only wants to team up with celebrities that are genuinely fans of the brand — though that is only the first of many considerations.
"Will this help with that aspiration of: 'Wow, I didn't expect this from Dunkin'?" Martin said. "Obviously, [we consider if we] can we punch above our weight in terms of earned media? Is it interesting? Is there a story here? All of those are factors that go into it."
Read the full story of Dunkin' stole Starbucks' crown as king of social media in 2020 here.
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