Camille Gray is a strategist at Initiative. She specialises in retail marketing, specifically e-commerce, focusing on cultural and media trends. She has a regular column, Add to Cart.
It’s a familiar scene in a marketing agency.
The brainstorm has lost momentum. People stare blankly into the distance. Ideas have run dry.
The painfully soul-sucking silence continues for a few more minutes until someone will desperately (and inevitably) offer up a single phrase:
…”What about a collab?”
Nothing is more satisfying than smashing two logos together on a slide. Like some demented chef, the wilder the combos the better: Aldi x Colette Dunnigan. Supreme x Luis Vuitton. Kim Kardashian x Sharon Strzelecki.
But chucking an ‘x’ between two brands is misleadingly simple, especially if you’re trying to win over anyone born after 1996. In reality, pulling off a collab is a difficult and high-risk game. Like some unchartered Mars mission, your brand is going after places (and people) it hasn’t before.
Which is why the recent Travis Scott x McDonald’s combo is a true gift to us all.
A drug-loving, tattooed rapper renowned for yelling poetic catchphrases such as “It’s lit” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of McDonalds. Yet this rapper is the king of collabs, having partnered with Hot Wheels, Fortnite, Nike and even a cereal brand.
None have been so successful as his recent collab with McDonald’s. The Travis Scott meal deal is McDonald’s first celebrity collab since Michael Jordan in 1992, and has caused supply chain shortages in the US.
Now many would argue that Travis Scott could do a collab with Metamucil and it would still be cool. And as much as I’d like to see that, it’s a dangerous assumption, and ultimately downplays the genius that is Travis Scott.
In reality, the Scott/Maccas combo is a triple serve of retail innovation, with supersized lessons for us all. Here are three magic ingredients to this winning recipe:
1. Respect the drip
A collab is not about new products, rather, it is about creating a new purpose for new consumers.
The genius of the Travis Scott $6 meal deal is that it is a combination of items that adds nothing new to the McDonald’s menu. In the promotional video, a mini figurine of Scott introduces his own favourite combo “the same since back in Houston,” inviting consumers to try what is essentially a quarter pounder meal with some extra ice in the Sprite, at around 30% less the cost (which is arguably a key part of its success).
In exchange, Travis Scott created a new line of merchandise built around a legacy brand. Rather than be overly protective of sacred brand guidelines, McDonald’s showed the same respect to Scott and gave over control to the rapper’s vision which included adding hand-scribbled logos and French fries designs to change up their golden arches. His merch was granted similar freedom, creating everything from a $90 nugget body pillow to 90s inspired lunchboxes and socks.
Fans win because they get to share a meal with their idol. Franchises win because the menu does not change. And Scott wins, because he makes no sacrifices for his ‘cool’ cred.
2. Serve while hot
As any Maccas employee would tell you, timing is everything.
But fast food is becoming increasingly synonymous with fast retail – characterised by time sensitive product drops. Travis Scott used his social channels to launch 100 different Maccas themed items via his online store. There have been three separate drops, with sales lasting between 24 to 48 hours each time.
This raises a second crucial ingredient in the success of the collab: balancing mass participation with exclusivity. While everyday customers can have instant gratification by purchasing the Travis Scott meal across 13,000 McDonald’s restaurants in the US, only a few will score exclusive McDonald’s themed merchandise. In fact, Scott’s online shop requires email and password sign-up, creating 1-to-1 communication channels and capturing data from his core fan base.
Every design Scott released is extremely unique and makes reference to its limited edition. In a beautifully ironic move, much of Scott’s sold-out merch features the line "Billions and billions served" when in actual fact only a few will get the privilege of becoming walking billboards for the rapper and the franchise. Similarly, the last drop over the weekend featured designs renowned streetwear brand Cactus Plant Flea Market, and played up the time-sensitive nature of the collab.
Smaller product drops drive a competitive mindset and allow retailers to optimise based on shopping behaviour (what sold out first? What sizes?). The ideal strategy solidifies customer loyalty and reaches an entirely new audience; exactly what Scott served up.
3. Don’t forget the Drive-thru
From TikTok duets to repurposed memes, the internet breeds re-invention of originals - and Travis Scott knows this. McDonald’s similarly bowed down and respected this ritual, allowing Scott to insert his own call to action in the promotion
“Tell them Jack sent you.”
This has since become a viral TikTok trend, with customers rolling up to order the Travis Scott meal while blasting the song ‘Sicko Mode.’ Rather than simply order the meal as normal, Scott is acutely aware that the experience of the collab is equally as important as the product.
Scott is no stranger to experiential marketing. His 28th birthday party (hosted by then girlfriend Kylie Jenner) doubled as a launch for a Nike collab with his record label Cactus Jack Records – featuring an immersive 100% branded range of supermarket products. As one of the first artists to launch a new album within Fortnite, Scott’s childhood obsession with theme parks has led him to create ‘fantasy’ experiences for his fans, combining gamification with imaginary worlds.
In this collab, Scott takes a commonplace ritual (the McDonald’s Drive-thru) and encourages fans to play up to the world of Cactus Jack. As a musician in a pandemic, Scott can’t give his fans the experience of live music, but he can forge loyalty and connection by diffusing Cactus Jack through culture and continue to engage a community of younger fans.
As McDonald’s surely knows, a well-produced collab is like a perfectly constructed Big Mac. Every ingredient matters, especially the secret sauce - which in this case, has proven to be Travis Scott.
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