Why Celebrity Fast Food Meals Took Off

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This week’s episode and memo are about celebrity fast food meals. It’s been 3.5 years since McDonald’s Travis Scott meal. We’ve seen some meals add billions of dollars in market cap to their parent company. Meanwhile, we’ve seen other meals make us wonder who TF thought that was a good idea.

To break it all down, I’m joined by my guy, Dr. Marcus Collins, who’ll be joining us for several more episodes in 2024. Can’t wait.

You can listen here or read below for some highlights from our conversation.

Since McJordans and B.I.G. Macks

McDonald’s Travis Scott may have kicked off the modern fast-food partnership, but it’s not the first meal of its kind. In 1992, The McJordan (named after Michael Jordan) was a popular item in the Chicagoland area and the Carolinas. Similarly, the McD’s Larry Bird “Big 33” sandwich was in the greater Boston area. These were launched to line up with the Barcelona Summer Olympics U.S. basketball team.

Yet despite Jordan’s Beatlemania’s level of popularity and the global impact of the Dream Team, these meals were regional campaigns from McDonald’s. Michael Jordan wasn’t even in the McJordan’s commercial despite having been in other McDonald’s commercials! Money was definitely left on the table.

That’s one of several reasons why it took nearly 30 years for McDonald’s to take these partnerships mainstream. Consumer brands and their agencies weren’t used to thinking like this. Sure, Michael Jordan’s name used to sell Gatorade and Wheaties boxes, but putting his face on an existing product is different than launching a nationwide product variant named after him.

The best initiatives often require some setback to spark action. McDonald’s had its fair share leading up to these celebrity fast food meals.

How artists helped McDonald’s bounce back

The 2000s and 2010s were a rough time for the fast-food industry. Documentaries like Super Size Me and Fast Food Nation put the global chain and its competitors in damage control. As Marcus said in our episode, the companies tried to cater to outside criticism. They introduced salads and other healthier menu items that didn’t resonate.

In 2019, McDonald’s teamed up with Marcus’ former agency, Wieden+Kennedy, to turn things around. They tapped into the “Fan Truths” that everyone has about their experience with McDonald’s. “Everybody has a McDonald’s order” became the spark that led to the Famous Orders commercial that launched in February 2020 during the Super Bowl.

Kim KardashianErin AndrewsKanye West, and even fictional characters like Back to the Future’s Marty McFly shared their orders for the spot:

When Famous Orders worked well, they decided to take it further with The Travis Scott Meal.

The meal worked because it lined up with the same “Fan Truths” idea of everyone having an order—me, you, Travis Scott, and other customers. Second, this was timely because Travis Scott was in the middle of one of the most commercially successful years an artist had had with brand partnerships. In 2020 he had deals with FortniteTenetPlayStationNikeGeneral Mills, and McDonald’s. This meal also launched in the middle of the pandemic. This meal was an opportunity for fans to go outside and have a shared experience during an otherwise isolating time.

The campaign also resonated because McDonald’s ignored the critics and leaned into the tens of millions of customers they serve every year. Sure, there was a lot to learn from the 2000s documentaries that critiqued the industry, but there were still plenty of people who loved the company.

It reminds me of a common artist’s turnaround journey. There are countless artists with a stellar debut project but followed it up with another album that tried too hard to cater to the masses. Usually, it’s that next project that speaks back to their core audience. From Future to Beyonce, to J. Cole and The Weeknd. McDonald’s had a similar journey.

The Travis Scott meal’s ROI paved the way for meals from Mariah CareyBTSJ BalvinCardi B and Offset, and Saweetie.

Who approved this?

The McDonald’s deals inspired the rest of the fast-food industry to do their versions. Some of them made sense, like Tim Horton’s and Justin Bieber’s Timbiebs. But many others fell flat.

Marcus and I talked about NellyBurger King introduced the The Cornell Haynes Jr Meal. They intentionally chose his “real name” since Burger King is all about “real food and ingredients.” I understand the logic, but there’s still a disconnect since people don’t refer to Nelly by his government name!

This isn’t a situation like Shawn Carter or Marshall Mathers, where their real names have been in their album titles and part of their brands. Also, how does Nelly keep getting caught up in these campaigns like these? It wasn’t that long ago since Honey Nut Cheerios “Must Be The Honey” commercials.

Then, there are the more random collaborations, like Ice Spice and Dunkin’. Again, I understand that her fanbase is named the Munchkins and she has “spice” in her name. But is there that much overlap between the Munchkin fanbase and the Dunkin customer? Also, who puts donut holes in their coffee drink?! Clever wordplay and name associations are rarely enough for a successful partnership.

It would be like Rihanna partnering with the Navy for recruiting because her fanbase is called “The Navy” and she was in the Battleship movie. There’s not enough “there” there.

I hope you listen to the full episode! We also discussed:

– the backstory on McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” jingle
– how celebrity fas food meals save on R&D costs
– why do artists lead these campaigns over non-musicians

Listen to the episode here.

Marcus [00:00:00]:

McDonald’s are going through some pretty tough times. The country is battling hypertension, obesity epidemic. All those things are happening, and McDonald’s is the biggest player in the space.

Dan Runcie [00:00:13]:

Hey, welcome to Capital. I’m your host, Dan Runcy. This is your place to gain insights on the business that shapes music, media and culture. We dive deep into the companies and mold who start the trends that shape the rest of the business world. It’s now been three and a half years since McDonald’s released the Travis Scott meal. Isn’t that wild? It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago that people would pull up to the McDonald’s drive thru window and not even say a word. They would pull up, turn up the volume on sicko mode by Travis Scott and Drake. And by the time they went to the window to pick up their order, they knew that there was going to be a Travis Scott meal there waiting for them.

Dan Runcie [00:00:55]:

The success of this meal was huge. It added billions of dollars of market cap for McDonald’s. And it led to other successful meals like J. Balvin, BTS, Cardi B, and Offset, Mariah Carey, sweetie, and several other fast food partnerships with other chains and other artists as well. But we learned a lot from those partnerships. We learned a lot about what works, what doesn’t, and where things may be headed with these in the future. To break it all down, I’m joined by Dr. Marcus Collins.

Dan Runcie [00:01:24]:

He’s been on this podcast before. He’s a friend, and he knows this space better than anyone because he worked at Wyden and Kennedy, the agency that partnered with McDonald’s to come up with the famous orders campaign and kick things off to lead to where we are today. I really enjoyed this one, and I hope you do, too. So come join us as we break down the years of artists and their relationships and partnerships with the fast food industry. All right, we’re here to do another deep dive episode, and we got a return guest with us, the one and only Dr. Marcus Collins. Welcome, bro.

Marcus [00:01:57]:

What’s up, man? How you doing?

Dan Runcie [00:01:58]:

I’m excited for this. I’m excited that we’ll be doing a few of these. And I feel like with your work, it was only right to start off on the power and the influence of these celebrity and artist fast food partnerships.

Marcus [00:02:10]:

What a world this has become, man. Like, who would have thunk it? I guess if you look back over time, maybe the writing was on the walls. What it has become is quite impressive and in some cases unexpected.

Dan Runcie [00:02:24]:

Because on one hand, who would have thought? Artists and celebrities and their ability to move product. Of course they can. We’ve seen this happen time and time again, but we clearly saw this wave and the timeliness of so many things that we’re going to dig into. But I feel like a good place to start with this conversation is McDonald’s, because they’ve probably been the brand that I think, in a lot of ways has been the most associated with this. And even as we’re looking back nearly 30 years ago at this point, they actually do have the first fast food partnership that we can look back on. The famous Mick Jordan ads, named after Michael Jordan from 1992.

Marcus [00:03:03]:

That’s right. They got the receipts. Not only are they the biggest in the space, so you got to give them some respect. But you’re right. In our sort of common days, kind of invented what it means for a fast food brand to partner with a celebrity and do it in a contextually meaningful way.

Dan Runcie [00:03:20]:

This has so many of the same elements that we see in the most recent wave of these partnerships. You have a special meal that’s put on the menu. It’s clearly inspired by the name, the image, and the likeness of a professional athlete. And in the 90s, Michael Jordan was bigger than life. We’re talking about the days of monoculture. You walk in and this man inspires Beetlemania. Everywhere he goes, you have this meal. But the one thing that stuck out about this one is that this was not a nationwide thing.

Dan Runcie [00:03:50]:

Despite the popularity of the bulls being nationwide, despite everything about this team, this was a Chicago thing. This was a broader Chicago land thing. And they also had a few in the Carolinas, just given Michael’s upbringing. But this was not a nationwide campaign.

Marcus [00:04:06]:

That was interesting about this is that not only is it geographically bound, but this wouldn’t have worked out in Detroit by any stretch. So it’s like, as much as Michael was beloved, there were some places where it was like, we appreciate what he does, but beloved is probably not the way in which we would consider him, especially here in Detroit. But you’re right, the Carolinas, he has a natural association. He is a demigod in many ways in the Chicagoland area. And actually remember going to Chicago to visit my grandparents who lived outside of Chicago, and going to the Rockwell themed McDonald’s restaurant there in the heart of Chicago. And having a Mick Jordan, surprisingly, and.

Dan Runcie [00:04:49]:

This, too, similar to these other meals, is quite standard, where it’s a quarter pounder with bacon with barbecue sauce, very similar to the Travis Scott meal that we’re going to talk about in a minute. But I want to talk about the Detroit piece, because you mentioned this obviously big rivalry there, especially late eighty s and early 90s. Do you think, though, in Detroit, could an Isaiah Thomas meal have worked? Could a Barry Sanders meal have worked?

Marcus [00:05:13]:

There was a certain omnipresent nature to Michael Jordan that had him transcend the sport. I think that Barry Sanders, Isaiah Thomas, Steve Eiserman, they’re Detroit legends. But always in the context of the sport where Jordan, he was iconic. He represented something more than just five guys on the court playing another five guys. As much as we love Zeke here, we love Isaiah Thomas here, still do. One of the most famous pistons, if not the most famous piston. I don’t know if that would have worked. Not to the fidelity that it did with Jordan.

Dan Runcie [00:05:53]:

He was someone, as you mentioned, omni president. Even in this partnership package they had, they probably could have rolled this out broader than just the Chicagoland and the Carolinas, but it didn’t quite expand in that way. And I think this highlights a lot of the strategy that McDonald’s and maybe other fast food restaurants had at the time. So much of the marketing or promotion was regional. There weren’t as many nationwide things, at least for this type of partnership that we saw. So much of it was dependent on the independent franchisee or the other people that were in that area to do their own campaigns. And a lot of us saw interesting things they would do growing up in Hartford, we would see some new creative things, or people would always decide when they wanted to have the McRib available and things like that. But it really wasn’t until some of the campaigns that we’re going to get to that you saw some of this broader nationwide campaigning happening.

Dan Runcie [00:06:46]:

So it was interesting to see that even someone as big as Michael Jordan, it just didn’t get the nationwide appeal, even despite the fact that this man’s posters and everything else sold nationwide better than anything.

Marcus [00:06:58]:

And I wonder if at the time, if marketers had even sort of considered what a vehicle like this would be. We’re going to look at some examples of where we saw partnerships, but the way we see it today, it’s not an endorsement level approach. This is about the co creation of value. And if you look at some of those ads for the like, Jordan wasn’t even an ad. I remember one commercial was like these blues singers singing about, and it’s back, nothing to do with Jordan. So there’s like these loose endorsements as opposed to just real partnerships. I think that that’s one of the major differences of where we are today. And what we saw back then, but also about what consumers expected of people.

Marcus [00:07:46]:

The expectations of people have changed, and so it requires a different proximity to the cultural vehicle. In this case, we’re talking about basketball and a different skill set of marketers with their ability to have close proximity to the space.

Dan Runcie [00:08:01]:

And this is probably why we just didn’t see as many of these happen until more recently in the campaigns that we’re going to get to, because there’s this huge gap again, despite all the monoculture, despite all the influence, this campaign happens in 1992. Maybe it trickled into 1993, but we don’t see anything like this for a while. And even if you look more broadly on the fast food relationships and stuff, the one thing that I could think of was you had the biggie, Big Mac. Remember that? That was a bit more of a New York thing. And I know that puff did his work to try to make that happen, but that wasn’t necessarily on the same scale even as the McJordan. But that was still an example of, okay, let’s take a popular meal and associate it with someone that’s famous.

Marcus [00:08:44]:

I mean, to look back at the McDonald’s and Biggie smalls relationship, it’s actually really ingenious what was done there, especially when you consider the Big Mac mixtape, which on one side was going to be Craig Mac, the other side, biggie smalls. And I think the promo photo for the mixtape was the three of them, Biggie, Craig Mack, and Puff in a McDonald’s. And on the menu, you see the track list for Craig and the track list for Biggie on the other side of the menu. The ability to sort of take the artifacts, the cultural artifacts that we know of a brand, and position it into a cultural lens. One would argue that in those days and 90s, only very few marketers were able to do this well. And it was reworked and refashioned by the actual cultural producers, I. E. The puff daddies of the world, to look back at some of those old campaigns, like, say, for, like, sprite, for instance, from the 90s, you look at those and go, oh, man.

Marcus [00:09:52]:

You shriek a little bit because it just feels so culturally incongruent, you saying.

Dan Runcie [00:09:57]:

That you mentioned Sprite. It makes me think of some of these others, too. We recently did an episode on Adidas. We’re talking about the run DMC campaign and how so much of that was influential, but Adidas had to be essentially convinced that this was a thing. So there was this whole, like, what is hip hop? Who are these people? And then you fast forward late 90s men in black, you look at the glasses, and Steve Stout has told that story several times before. But that’s another example of. That’s still early in the lane of people seeing and understanding this. And like you said, marketers that really are tuned in and have the agency and influence to be able to make decisions here.

Marcus [00:10:33]:

And in each one of those cases, a save for Sprite, because Darryl Cobbin did that work. But like the men in black stuff, like Steve Stout is a cultural producer who happens to be to turn into a marketer, right? That’s the reworking of Will Smith, reworking the meaning of that brand. He’s a cultural producer. He is in the seat of a cultural maven, right. It wasn’t a marketer saying, oh, we should get the brand to do this. Those things just weren’t happening. And even run DMC, like Adidas didn’t say, hey, let’s rework this into hip hop. Hip hop took it and reworked it into the culture.

Marcus [00:11:12]:

So in those days, man, it just wasn’t the marketer making those decisions. It was people who have a close proximity to the people that were able to say, oh, these assets and this framing will work in this context. And they were able to do. You know, marketers didn’t catch up to this until much later in the game.

Dan Runcie [00:11:30]:

You mentioned Steve Stout. He comes into this again when McDonald’s has its next iteration with music and the I’m loving it jingle, a jingle that has become a bit more controversial, just considering some of the backstory and who wrote it and some of the claims from Pusha T, some of the claims from other camps there. But Stout is the one that connects Justin Timberlake to the McDonald’s team. They work with Pharrell, they work with, allegedly, depending on who you ask. They work with clips, they work with other songwriters in Germany and others to create this iconic clip. But even that itself, this was something that was a bit more unique, because, again, this wasn’t a regional campaign, this was a national campaign. And then let’s have this rollout as part of the brand, and then let’s have this be released as its own single. And that.

Dan Runcie [00:12:15]:

But up how that still is so synonymous. And even something like that catch on to be like, yes, that’s why this needs to expand broader than just regions. The connection that that has and that ability for it to live on is why this stuff is so powerful.

Marcus [00:12:31]:

Well, you know, I’m completely biased when it comes to stout having been at translation, working with him for four years. The man was. He really was before, ahead of his time. We talk a lot about culture clearly, and its impact on consumption, but his ability to see it and to understand the mechanisms of it, if only intuitively, and be able to rework them to drive commerce for consumer packaged goods, QSR, and other categories, it was unbelievably powerful. And he spent so much time making records and understanding sort of the temperament of the people and realizing this is the right vehicle for this message, be it an artist. This is the right artist for this song. This is the right artist to have proximity to this brand and this story, for him to be able to orchestrate the Neptune’s produced track. I’m loving it.

Marcus [00:13:29]:

That mnemonic already existed. As far as I know, the mnemonic already existed. It’s like, all right, let’s take that and rework it into something that becomes not only a powerful cultural vehicle, but become a part of our cultural lexicon. I mean, he did the same thing with double mint gum, double your pleasure, double your fun. That’s became. What was a slogan from double mint gum became forever for Chris Brown, taking the vehicle of cultural mythology that is music, this cultural production, as a way to drive commerce. It seems commonplace today, but in the early 2000s, definitely in the 90s, you didn’t have very many practitioners that could do this well. And to the fidelity that stout was able.

Marcus [00:14:20]:

I consider myself very fortunate to have learned from him.

Dan Runcie [00:14:24]:

And the benefit of doing good work is highlighted even more so when you see examples of it that don’t go as well and examples of it that could be a bit more either frowned upon or controversial around the same time, maybe a couple of years after you have the Mary J. Blige ad that she does, I believe it’s with Burger King, and it’s when she’s talking about chicken and she’s standing up on a table in one of the restaurants there. And, of course, Mary J. Blige, beloved, a legend in this industry. But that particular campaign was one that frustrated many people because of how it appeared that she was promoting and talking about chicken and tapping into stereotypes that people didn’t want to revisit. And it’s a real life version of one of these things where, especially now in the social media era, we’ve seen so many campaigns of both yesterday and today go viral because there’s certain things that just don’t sit the best and don’t look the best, and they can spark certain feelings and negative connotations. And that’s why this stuff is so important to be able to get right to be able to have the people that are in touch with it, to be able to tap into why something resonates, or to be able to raise your hand if this may not be the best move for us. Yeah.

Marcus [00:15:37]:

I mean, this isn’t simple math. This isn’t one plus one equals two. This isn’t, hey, let’s take a celebrity, put our brand next to it, slap them some music, and there you go. It’s not that at all. I mean, the Mary J. Blige thing was cringeworthy for sure. Not unlike, which is right around that same time, maybe a little bit later, the Cheerios partnerships with, like, Nelly. Exactly.

Marcus [00:16:00]:

It’s like, must be the honey, right? Unbelievable. Like, what is happening? What is happening? And you think that makes all the sense in the world? Isn’t that funny? Must be the honey. It’s a nice pun. And while it might make sense on a brief, it might be cute as marketing communications through art and copy, but for people who self identify by these cultures, to which Nelly has become a prominent figure, you go, no, man. No. That is all wrong.

Dan Runcie [00:16:31]:

Yeah. And unfortunately, this is not the last time that Nellie’s going to come up in this conversation. But this is fascinating, too, because now we’re entering the era of social media and its impact on brands and the brands and the identity that brands want to have. And we start to see brands leveraging social media in more and more ways that are creative and interesting. And this is where we start to see more of the mixtapes. There’s that Wendy’s mixtape that was dropped around the mid two thousand and ten s and that had some memorable tunes on it, and we just hadn’t seen brands speak that way from themselves. Of course, they’ve used spokespersons and people like that, but we hadn’t seen that. And then I remember one of the times you were guest speaking at Michigan, you were the ones that told us about the hamburger helper mixtape as well, and just all of the things that they have there.

Marcus [00:17:16]:

So let’s stop with Hamburger Helper because that mean that case study, it has to be told. Because on the surface, it looks like they are appropriating hip hop culture. What does Hamburger Helper have to do with hip hop? Like, are you kidding me? This makes no sense. But if you check the receipts of their social feeds, they’ve been about that life for years. I’m going to say using. They have been showing an understanding of culture, the cultural appreciation for years through their social feeds, which gives them license and authority to weigh in on the cultural discourse with the point of view from the brand. Borrowing from Jay Z and Kanye’s watch the throne, they create watch the stove. And the songs sound exactly like what’s on the radio.

Marcus [00:18:05]:

They used local mcs from Minneapolis, where general Mills is headquartered. Hamburger Helper being a general Mills brand, they use local artists, and it sound like the trap music of the day. And what’s killer is that the actual lyrics are tutorials on how to use the product. I’ve been in the kitchen stirring with my mitten. I’m stirring, I’m stirring, I’m stirring. I’m serving a beef and I’m serving. It’s like it was crazy. And the songs go like they’re dope.

Marcus [00:18:35]:

And that level of proximity, you go, yeah, man. I mean, my favorite tweet from that was hamburger helper just told all you all to get your bars up.

Dan Runcie [00:18:45]:

It’s great.

Marcus [00:18:46]:

So it’s not like just the headlines that praise it because it’s clever marketing as we know it, but it’s the people who are part of the culture adopt it and go, yep. The fact that they launched the mixtape through daft piff, that’s their understanding of the culture. The fact that you were able to stream it not on Spotify, not on Apple Music, but on Soundcloud, because that’s where the cultural production is being consumed and negotiated. That level of understanding is really the difference between those who are able to tap into the power of culture and those who are not. And that’s the problem we had in the 90s, is that the 90s looked at cultural production as what’s popular. Oh, this is what’s popular. So let’s just do our version of it, as opposed to understanding, well, why are these things meaningful to these groups of people, and where do we have license to be a part of it? And the more savvy marketers have gotten over the years, that Delta between the two gets smaller and smaller and smaller. And the expectations of consumers are that, okay, if you’re going to play in my culture, then you better know what you’re talking about.

Marcus [00:19:57]:

If not, you’re going to get fried.

Dan Runcie [00:19:58]:

Yeah, literally, no pun intended there.

Marcus [00:20:05]:


Dan Runcie [00:20:06]:

Social media is such a powerful tool with this because you just see more data, you see the power of a lot of these artists, and in some ways, it allows certain marketers the ability to help quantify this. Of course, you knew that someone like Michael Jordan is big, but now you can see how many followers this person has, how that engages and with all of the metrics and things like that you can track these things. Of course, there’s much more to an effective brand instead of just the clicks that you generate, as I’m sure that you know very well, just given the work that I’m sure you have to pitch clients on often. But this is where we get to a lot of the foundation for the present day campaigns and why it’s good to kick things off. Talking about McDonald’s here again, because what they are able to do and where they think about doing before they kick off their famous order campaigns is key, because similar to where things were leading up to the I’m loving it jingle, and maybe even in the 90s as well, they were going through a transitional spot and figuring out how best do we have our brand connect with things. And I think you could probably tell the story even better just in terms of why they wanted to work with a company and an agency like Wyden and Kennedy to help elevate the company.

Marcus [00:21:18]:

McDonald’s was going through some pretty tough times, and we’re talking like 15 years of the court of public opinion being very negative on the brand. You take the early 2000s, ironically, around the time with I’m loving it and Justin Timberlake, but you’ve got super size me, the Morgan Spurlock movie that essentially documents him eating McDonald’s and apparently his body deteriorating as a result of it, which makes McDonald’s the villain in his narrative. Not only that the country is battling hypertension, there’s a heart health epidemic, obesity epidemic in the country. There are lawsuits that are being drawn out against McDonald’s. And all those things are happening. And McDonald’s is the biggest player in the space. So they become the punching bag for everything wrong with the american diet. Everything wrong with the american diet is McDonald’s fault.

Marcus [00:22:18]:

And McDonald’s is like, whoa, whoa. How do we get here?

Dan Runcie [00:22:21]:

Y’all used to love us.

Marcus [00:22:22]:

How do we get, you know, as they get feedback about the menu being all burgers and all these things that are high caloric value, they, you know, we have salads. People are like, whatever, McDonald’s, ain’t nobody coming for you for salads. Speaking of partnerships, they did a salad commercial with Destiny’s child. We have salads, right? Beyonce, Kelly and Michelle eats McDonald’s. You should too. It’s healthy. Like, no, whatever. And then you’ve know them saying, we got apple slices in the happy meals and milk in the happy meal.

Marcus [00:22:57]:

They’re healthier and people just weren’t buying it. And what McDonald’s were essentially doing, they were trying to play to the haters, they were trying to say, hey, hey, don’t hate us. Like, we actually had this good thing going on. And that was the case for almost 15 years. Like, well over a decade, I think. McDonald’s came to wine Kennedy saying, help us battle the hate. And after quite a bit of discourse between the agency and McDonald’s, trying to find where we could help them, where it landed is that, yeah, a lot of people hate you for sure, but 68 million people show up at your door every single day. That’s a lot of love.

Marcus [00:23:36]:

Why don’t you focus on the love, focus on those people, and you go, wow, we never thought about it that way. And numerically, six, 8 million people, though it seems big, the scale of McDonald’s is not as big as one would think. So they go, okay, well, who are these people? Who are these people that love the brand, these fans of the brand that despite all the vitriol perhaps associated with the McDonald’s brand, they still self identify as such? And the truth is, we didn’t know Wyden Kenny didn’t know very well who these people were. And I’d argue to say neither did McDonald’s. They knew their credit card data, they knew their consumption patterns, but they didn’t know who they were. So the team commissioned, or McDonald’s commissioned, a study. The team went and did an ethnography, starting in Chicago, where McDonald’s is headquartered, all the way through the heartland of the country, talking to real life human beings who self identify as McDonald’s fans, right? Transcending all the demographic markers, age, race, gender, household income, geography, education, and looked at people who self identify as fans of McDonald’s. And what they found was quite eye opening, that there are these truths, these sort of refrains that keep coming up in conversations, people who don’t even know each other.

Marcus [00:24:54]:

And so much so that the team call them fan truths. These are sort of like unspoken rules of what it means to be a fan. Some of these things are a little bit obvious, like, your friend would ask for a fry, even though they say they didn’t want any fries. It’s a fan truth. That’s my wife. All day long, right? Can I get a fry? You said you ain’t want nothing. Why are you asking me for fries now? Right? The fan truth, right? Is there anybody out there who doesn’t eat the cheese stuck to the wrapper? If you don’t, you’re a monster, because that cheese is phenomenal, right? Fan truth. Or you order water, but still some sprite that’s me all day long, right? Fan truth.

Marcus [00:25:29]:

And while those truths are like, wow, that’s kind of rich, interesting, and some of them quirky, and some of them are funny and light hearted, there was one fan truth that rang louder than any of them. It just reverberated. And how profoundly true it was that no matter how famous, how big you are, everyone has an order. Everyone has an order. And, like, McDonald’s as a brand is a democratizer in that way. You put 100 people in a room together, and you ask them what they all have in common beyond their biology. You go, have you ever had McDonald’s? 100% of your hands are going up in the room, right? And not only that, but they have the thing. They typically order their go to order.

Marcus [00:26:09]:

And it’s like, wow, that is really profound. It’s really, really powerful. So the team decided, well, let’s activate fandom by activating fans based on their order. So they partnered with some famous people to highlight their famous order. Right? Kanye West, Kim Kardashian. This, before we knew Kanye was Kanye, by the way. This is old Kanye.

Dan Runcie [00:26:35]:

This is, like, 2019 Kanye.

Marcus [00:26:37]:

That’s right. Exactly. He wasn’t quite off the deep edge just yet. Magic Johnson, whoopi Goldberg, Peyton Manning, even some fictitious characters like Dracula, whose famous order is ketchups, or Julius Caesar, whose famous order, of course, is a Caesar salad. Or Romeo and Juliet, whose famous order is sharing a milkshake. So the idea was that we are going to celebrate fandom by celebrating fans famous orders. And on Super Bowl 2020, put that spot out and sort of wait. It like how people respond to this thing and when it goes into the market, delightfully, people respond very positively.

Marcus [00:27:17]:

Not saying, I love McDonald’s so much. It wasn’t that they were actually talking about themselves, their identity, and that being a fan of McDonald’s was an identity project for them. And they’re debating some of the orders, like, does Kim Kardashian really eat chicken nuggets? Does she really eat it with honey mustard? Well, I eat mine with barbecue sauce. So this is all about how we connect with people through, and as a result, people feel proud to be a fan. And you go, oh, okay, that’s an interesting truth. It’s an interesting truth. But I think we have an idea on our hand. And the idea then was, let’s take that truth and turn it into something real by partnering with a real life fan who we have receipts of their fandom and take that person’s order, famous order, and make it available for everyone.

Marcus [00:28:10]:

And that person, of course, is Travis Scott. And his famous order is a quarter pounder with bacon, shredded lettuce, barbecue sauce to dip his fries, and a sprite. And we call that the cactus Jack, which, by the way, the cactus Jack could be the Marcus Collins. It’s not, but it could be. And that’s sort of the power of the insight that this thing is so true, and it connects us all in such a powerful and simple way that what could be yours is also mine. And that’s what connects us. And McDonald’s does that for us. And it takes what is an old product and reframes it through a cultural lens to make it altogether new, giving it new meaning.

Marcus [00:28:53]:

And we put this in the world, and people go crazy. In the first week, you broke the supply chain of quarter pounder ingredients. What? Not only that, but people were stealing posters off the windows when the restaurants were closed in the four weeks that this campaign lived.

Dan Runcie [00:29:12]:


Marcus [00:29:13]:

So it was only a 30 day promotion, one month promotion. It increased revenue by $50 million, and Wall Street Journal added $10 billion to the market cap. What? This is unbelievable.

Dan Runcie [00:29:29]:

It was huge. It was such a moment, and there were so many interesting things that happened with it from a social dynamic where people were going up to the drive through and just turning on sicko mode, turning it up on full volume, and then just being like, oh, you know what I’m here for? To the point they had to put that in the McDonald’s workbook as a protocol in terms of, okay, when someone comes to the drive thru and you hear this song, this is what you get them. It was such a very fascinating phenomenon, and I’m glad you brought up the point about the quarter pounders specifically, because you look at all of the billions of dollars of revenue. McDonald’s most successful items are billion dollar line items in itself, and quarter pounder is one of those. So to be able to do that and essentially double the sales that week, run out of the supply is extremely impressive. Extrapolate that. Over the four week period, there was so much of it that it tapped into, and it was so well timed with someone like Travis Scott, too. His year in 2021 of the most commercially successful years I think I’ve seen an artist have with regards to their brand partnerships.

Dan Runcie [00:30:37]:

He had things in place with Fortnite. He had the McDonald’s. He had the Tenet movie that came out that year. PlayStation five came out that year. There were so many things lined up that he was just like, boom, boom, boom. What’s the partnership here? What’s the partnership here and just making it all work for him. So the timing of that, I think, was very effective.

Marcus [00:30:56]:

He was the prototype of partnership. The beautiful part about it is that he was unapologetically a McDonald’s fan. There were videos of him with McDonald’s bags in his bugatti. There was no front in here. This was not, anyway, coerced. This wasn’t transactional. This was meaningful. And when you look at what McDonald’s were able to do versus the partnerships of the past in the early 2000s, is that McDonald’s ability to tap into this fandom only came through intimacy, through seeing the world through the eyes of fans, not consumers.

Marcus [00:31:35]:

And that’s important to note. This isn’t like, let’s talk to the people who are buying a lot of. No, no. These are people who self identify as fans of, like, they are a part of a community. And McDonald’s ability to understand how they make meaning of the world created an avenue that McDonald’s can engage with them in a meaningful way. Not in a way. It’s like, hey, tell everybody how much you love. It’s like, no, no.

Marcus [00:31:58]:

This is a way by which you project your identity, where McDonald’s becomes cultural production. A way by which I signal to the world who it was only. It was only halvable because of the ethnographic research that McDonald’s did, finding the fan truths and using the fan truths as an invitation to engage with them in a meaningful way. And from that you’ve got the Travis Scott, the cactus Jack. The team goes, okay, I think we had a platform on our hands. We went from an insight to an idea to a platform. So you partner with Jay Balvin, whose famous order is Big Mac with a Oreo McFlurry, when the machine isn’t joking. And then you partner with BTS, Kpop superstars, right? And again, we’ve seen music used as a vehicle, but music in this case is not the hero.

Marcus [00:32:57]:

The hero are fans. The hero isn’t even Travis Scott. It’s Travis Scott. As a member of this community, fans. And, oh, Jay Balvin, a member of this community. Fans. Oh, MBTS. A member of this community.

Marcus [00:33:13]:

Fans, sweetie. Right? A member of this community. Fans. Even Mariah Carey, a member of this. You know, you find the cross section of different genres, be it reggaeton, be it hip hop, that it’s not about the context or the category. It’s about understanding the nuances of fandom. And the ability to do that has just created sort of a hockey stick growth for the brand.

Dan Runcie [00:33:43]:

With that, I want to break down a few trends here and get a sense for the impact that they have with this. So one of them, we have the timeliness of the pandemic because there’s so many of these things happening. And I’d be curious to hear from you, how much of an impact do you think this made in the timing of it happening during the pandemic? Not necessarily in the fact that whether or not McDonald’s has more or less sales in the pandemic, but the ability for something that has cultural gravitas to have the room to be able to have the attention for something that people can safely go outside to and experience this through their drive through when there aren’t many other things to then have that quote unquote outside experience.

Marcus [00:34:24]:

I think that the timing of the pandemic was contextually beneficial because we’re just looking for reasons to crash into each other, looking for reasons, just anything to get us close together. I mean, we talked about Tiger King for weeks. It’s like anything to get us close together. And here it was a thing that was reflective of who we are collectively who we are, that was meaningful in the things that matter to us. And it was a way that we were able to engage with it safely, I. E. Going through the drive through and prolifically through our social networking platform. So it became sort of like the eye of the storm, if you will, the convergence of all these things that worked in McDonald’s favor.

Marcus [00:35:11]:

Would the campaign have worked regardless? I think so. But you get this x factor that comes from the context of which it happens and all the things that are going on in people’s day to day lives and lack thereof, rather that the campaigns get to benefit from those are things you can’t plan for. It’s like the blueprint dropping on 911. It’s like you can’t plan for that. These contextual backdrops that are happening, it adds meaning to the production that is being produced, and as a result, people engage with it accordingly.

Dan Runcie [00:35:47]:

I also want to talk about the racial diversity of the people that were chosen for this campaign because I know that was an intentional piece where so many of these campaigns, not necessarily for fast food, more broadly, there’s a certain type of person that can be chosen. But we specifically looked at people that are black or brown, representing different regions and how important that is when you’re trying to have a campaign like this, especially when you’re trying to shape McDonald’s relationship with younger consumers and younger audiences.

Marcus [00:36:19]:

The melanin representation was just a byproduct of the production. We think about who are fans, like, who are true fans of the brand, who have meaningful in their particular context, and then who people would see as having an authentic right to be a part of this. Like, for instance, Jay Z is a bigger name than Travis Scott, right? But if Jay Z was chosen instead of Travis Scott, that campaign would be completely different. It wouldn’t be as meaningful. You’d be like, oh, Jay Z got a check. Jay Z just got paid, right? It wouldn’t be, oh, like, travis is a fan. That makes all the sense in the world. The diversity of the heterogeneity of the people is really just a reflection of the heterogeneity of fans of, like, this thing is completely democratized.

Marcus [00:37:10]:

Know different regions of the world who happen to have impact here in the states, create the vehicle by which people can see themselves in it. And I think that. I wouldn’t say that there was like, let’s get a black person. I don’t think there was a quota or a box that was being ticked. I think it’s just a reflection of cultural production, right. That they come from the marginalized. Innovation comes from the marginalized in that we see that in the work that’s put out in the world.

Dan Runcie [00:37:41]:

I want to talk about the musician piece of this, too, because all these people are musicians and artists in their own right. Do you think this could have worked with non artists or non musicians?

Marcus [00:37:50]:

Well, I think it set the stage for us to widen the aperture beyond musical artists to being artists writ large. Which leads us to the adult Happy meal, which was done in partnership with cactus plant flea market. And the idea there was that there was discourse in social channels, and someone asked the question, when did you realize you had your last happy meal? Which is just sad, right? Existential cris, when did you realize that you were elevating to an adult meal? And in that discourse, the question was begged, what if we had an adult happy meal? Say less, say less. And the idea of the adult happy meal, it’s not just a nostalgic play. It’s really about using the real estate of the box and the artifacts inside the box that comes with a happy meal to be another cultural artifact. We partner with Cactus plant flea market to design the box and then design the toys, the artifacts, and they have contextual cultural meaning because of the producer thereof. I mean, these things sold out in the first week. Just unbelievable.

Marcus [00:39:02]:

Now, it wasn’t the same framing or the same device as famous orders, but it was the same frame that this was about what unites fans based on fan truths, the proximity to fandom is what has allowed McDonald’s to find a lightning rod in their marketing communications and in fact, even in their products. And we just see this recently with the new artist resident program, adult Happy Meal with chicken nuggets.

Dan Runcie [00:39:34]:

I think with this, too. It also points out how, why this is likely attractive for McDonald’s, too, is that there is so much money that is often spent into coming up with new products and new different ideas to put out there that whether it’s infamous things like the arch deluxe or things like that, that they spend so much money on trying to make happen but just don’t happen, this is a much cheaper way to do it because you’re already using things that are on your menu, maybe with a few different tweaks here or there, but you’re also now partnering with this artist or this celebrity that has their own following. They’re able to help push things as well. So it’s considerable savings on the R D perspective, too, from McDonald’s.

Marcus [00:40:17]:

And it speaks to the power of frames, where an old product can feel new because of the framing in which it’s given. McRib is an example of this shamrock shake example of this, that McDonald’s been able to leverage his marketing communication as a form of scarcity, but in this way, by reframing it through a cultural lens. It’s not a quarter pounder with bacon, shredded lettuce, and barbecue sauce and a sprite. It’s the cactus jack. And as a result, it means something different. That’s really the important part that marketers should take away when it comes to brands. This idea of meaning and meaning making that things aren’t the way they are, they are the way that we are. And if we can change the frames in which things are presented, then it means something different to different people.

Marcus [00:41:04]:

And if we understand how people make meaning because of our proximity to that, then we can present things in a certain frame and they go, oh, that’s for me. Right? Again. If McDonald’s had chosen supreme instead of cactus plant flea market, it wouldn’t have the same effect. Even though supreme is biggest street wear brand you know there is. Right? Supreme is widely, like, massive, right? But everyone knows. Know. But do cactus plant flea market? It’s like, oh, you’re talking to me. I’m a street wear guy.

Marcus [00:41:39]:

Then you’re speaking in the coded language to let me know that not only do you understand, but you sort of see me. The feeling, the experience of being seen is how we find connection.

Dan Runcie [00:41:51]:

In some ways, it’s similar to that Jay z Travis Scott example that we’re talking about before, just in terms of what resonates and what doesn’t. The other piece here, too, that was part of the ROI and the impact for McDonald’s we talked about a little bit earlier, but was app downloads and how important that is, just in terms of being able to understand the consumer and build a bit more of that relationship that isn’t as transactional. Can you talk about that piece?

Marcus [00:42:15]:

McDonald’s released, like, four new products in the last four years. It being the chicken sandwich, the mobile app, the grimace shake. Not a lot of new products, but the app has become a conduit, not just for transaction, but a conduit for which McDonald’s could better understand fans. Not just consumers, but fans and understanding fans. We create experiences that enrich their fandom. A few years back, we did Camp McDonald’s, where every day for a month, there was a new experiences. There were concerts inside the app for those who are a part of the community. And technology enables transparency in such a way that we can not only look at consumption behavior, pair that with our ethnographic research means, and then start to extract more meaning or more understanding around the context in which they’re using the product or engaging with the product so that we can create more meaningful experiences.

Marcus [00:43:26]:

I think about it this way, that the best use of technology is when you can first identify that you know me, then you can help me and you can wow me. And it’s not like know me, like, I don’t know, like a stalker. It’s more like know me, like a secret admirer. Oh, you’ve been paying attention, and I’ve given you access to pay attention to me by using the app. And then you see sort of the things that I want to do based on how I consume and when I consume. And you go, oh, let’s help them do this thing. Let’s help them deepen the things that matter to them and do in a way that goes, wow, McDonald’s. How did you even know that? That’s what’s up.

Marcus [00:44:03]:

And then people go tell other people. And now you got the reverberation of the network effect at play that drives what normally would consider to be a small community play to getting scale in the aggregate.

Dan Runcie [00:44:15]:

That’s where the power of this is. That’s where you’re really able to see the impact. And I’m sure with this work, too, you’re seeing what’s working with McDonald’s. You all are working pretty closely hand in hand with them. But once these start to kick off, you’re also seeing the other fast food companies and them partnering with other celebrities doing their things. So we’re going to take this in a few parts, but first, let’s start with this one. Were there any of those campaigns that you saw and you.

Marcus [00:44:41]:


Dan Runcie [00:44:41]:

Okay. All right. I’ll give you props. That was dope. The long pause says, enough.

Marcus [00:44:49]:

I want to be respectful. I want to be respectful. I would say that the Tim Hortons Justin Bieber relationship, I go, I get that. Right. But a lot of the other ones, I always scratched my head and almost know I felt sort of bad for them, because as a marketer, we look what’s in the category, we look what’s in the market, and oftentimes we sort of copy what’s out there. Like, just do our version of it. But the thing is that they were copying all the executions without having the understanding, without having the intimacy that those executions were byproducts of a fan truth. Because of our ability to understand our fans in a very intimate way.

Marcus [00:45:33]:

Fans of McDonald’s don’t act like fans of Burger King, and therefore, you can’t engage them the same way. Right. And I think about, like, know, their approach was like, let’s just do a real version of it because they’re all about being real. And instead of using the stage name of these artists, we’re used their real name because we keep it real. The Cornell Haynes Jr. Mill, for instance. Nellie comes back to the conversation, and you see that and you go, oh, man. Like, no, guys, no, it’s not real.

Marcus [00:46:06]:

It’s not real of fandom, and therefore, it doesn’t feel as meaningful. You can copy the executions, but if you don’t understand the strategy, you’ll never have the same impact.

Dan Runcie [00:46:15]:

The Cornell Hayes meal was always difficult because he’s not like Sean Carter in the sense that that is a name that was often used with him in his association. It’s not like a Marshall Mathers where it was used with that as well. I don’t even know if most Nelly fans outside of the St. Louis area, if you, you know, you heard that new Cornell Haynes album, they would be like, oh, yeah, Nelly. I just don’t think that same connection was there. So I was a bit surprised to see that. But again, unfortunately, it’s a few years after. Must be the honey.

Dan Runcie [00:46:47]:

Like, how does our boy from the loo keep getting caught up in these? How does this happen?

Marcus [00:46:53]:

But you’re like, again, even that part that’s culturally not true, that people don’t refer to him as such. Right. And there’s artists that we do, to your point, Sean Carter, Sean Combs, Reggie Noble, like, these are artists in their cultural production. We know them by their government name as well as their stage name. So for the brand to understand their stage name as well is a way of signaling that they know them, too.

Dan Runcie [00:47:18]:


Marcus [00:47:18]:

Andre Benjamin. Right.

Dan Runcie [00:47:20]:

Like Benjamin Andre, to be exact. Exactly. Part of the song.

Marcus [00:47:26]:

Exactly. So to know that is a way of signaling proximity. And for Burger King to go that route goes, oh, man, not only did you copy the executions without having the strategy that is real. That is the truth of your fans, but also, you don’t even understand the space that well. You don’t even understand the cultural production that well, and it ends up falling flat, unfortunately.

Dan Runcie [00:47:48]:

What were your thoughts on Popeyes and stallion?

Marcus [00:47:51]:

So at least there is some contextual relationship there, right? Even though the stallion is not from Louisiana, I believe that thee stallion has her special concoction of barbecues, of hot sauce, and they’re going to provide that through their chicken tenders. At Popeyes, you go, okay. It’s kind of the best you get from okay. Does it become a way of signaling my identity? No, not at all. Is that true of fans of Popeyes, that we’re always looking for a certain kind of sauce? I don’t think so. So therefore, it just becomes like, oh, good for Meg. Meg got a check. And contextually, I guess that makes sense, right?

Dan Runcie [00:48:45]:

Because she also owns a Popeyes franchise, if I remember correctly. So I think that there’s some tie in there.

Marcus [00:48:50]:

But even that, though, even the ownership of it isn’t what’s driving the partnership, unlike Rick Ross and Wingstop, now, we know that Rick Ross is heavily invested in Wingstop. So with Rick Ross being in Wingstop commercials, you go, I get that. Like, he is. Like, this is a part of his cultural production. He talks about, like, it’s a part of his thing. And when it’s not that and it’s not anchored in some truth, it becomes really hard to make those connections.

Dan Runcie [00:49:22]:

And that’s where, yeah, I think, like him. Lemon pepper wings. There’s so much of a strong tie in there. And I’m glad that you mentioned the Bieber one, too, because obviously, Canada Tim Hortons. It makes perfect sense there. The most recent one is ice spice and the dunkin drink. And this one got a bunch of attention because similarly, it was products that were already on the menu, but I had never really seen people put Duncan actual munchkins in their coffee drink and then drink that. And then I think, in many ways, it almost went more viral because of the amount of ingredients and calories and sugar that was in it than anything else.

Dan Runcie [00:50:02]:

And I couldn’t necessarily imagine icepice drinking it herself. But I guess it was an opportunity to capitalize on the moment and the popularity that she has and the buzz and everything.

Marcus [00:50:13]:

But there it is. It’s the capitalizing. Like, we’re to capitalize on the thing. And whenever it comes to culture and you’re capitalizing on it, I think that’s always sort of a red flag. The idea is, how do we contribute to it? How do we contribute something meaningful? Because we understand the dynamics. We understand the mechanisms of the culture that brings these people together. And when you look at McDonald’s, that’s what they did, right? Like, can’t be understated that not only did we launch the cactus Jack, but we also launched merch with it, too. Merch that Pharrell was wearing.

Marcus [00:50:46]:

It looked really good. It looked like it was of street wear. You just have so much of the nuances, so much of the proximity to it that it just feels right. We talked about this years ago, you and I, talking about Sprite. Like Sprite in those obey your thirst ads, particularly the ciphers with P. Roxio, smooth and large professor and grand Puba, my friend Abigail Weintrop. We say that the sprite, like, it could be a blunt in the studio, like it belonged there. Right? And it’s like having that level of proximity, you feel like you’re one of us.

Marcus [00:51:26]:

And McDonald’s has become what was once literally, in 2014, I think it was said that McDonald’s one of the most hated brands in the country to now not only the most valuable, but one of the most beloved brands in the country. That’s like LeBron James going back to Cleveland kind of turnaround. And why is that? Because he focused on the people. Like, the brands are in service of the people, and the better we understand the people, the more likely we are to activate them. But if we’re trying to capitalize on them, even say that out loud, you go, oh, that don’t feel right.

Dan Runcie [00:52:02]:


Marcus [00:52:02]:

But we’re trying to contribute to them. You go, oh, yeah, definitely. If you understand it and you have something meaningful to contribute, come on in.

Dan Runcie [00:52:10]:

And that’s why the strong brands and the strong partnerships here do make a difference, do get recognized. And that’s why this famous orders and everything that’s come along after is now an award winning campaign that is won at Epi. So congrats to you and congrats to the rest of the team that worked on this, because this is the difference that we’re talking about.

Marcus [00:52:30]:

McDonald’s has won the most effective marketer for the last couple years and this year you won most effective marketing campaign in the world. This is unbelievable. And what it does is it sort of validates a few things. One, brands who want scale don’t talk to everybody. They talk to people in a very nuanced and intimate way. And those people become the accelerant that propagates into the population. Two, it underscores the power of culture, not new products. The products are good, don’t get me wrong, but it wasn’t new products that drove this thing.

Marcus [00:53:11]:

It was the cultural reframing of old products that gave things new meaning that was meaningful, I e. Full of meaning to a group of people. And then thirdly, it was the ability to find a place in the cultural zeitgeist that was uniquely their own, where they weren’t copying, they weren’t sort of following what was trendy, but instead contributing to the cultural zeitgeist in such a way that people go, oh, that’s kind of dope. Let’s rework that into the way we show up in the. Yet that’s one of the coolest things. If you look at, especially BTS, we saw this where people were taking the BTs themed packaging and turning it into their own gear. They’re turning it into artifacts then of like, they’re co creating value by contributing to the discourse through the reworking of McDonald’s artifacts. That is cultural production sort of at its finest.

Marcus [00:54:09]:

We’re using these brands as a way to signify our own identity. This is rarefied space for brands. And what it means is that if McDonald’s can have a turnaround like this because of its proximity to culture, then there’s nothing keeping you from doing that too, except for the fact that you have to be creatively courageous, you have.

Dan Runcie [00:54:30]:

To be willing to do the work. There has to be enough there to justify it. I think that Taco Bell similarly think about how much more distinct that brand is when you think about late night meals and things like that, and especially with stoners and all of the artists that are closely associated with that era. You think about studios being open late, oh, we need some more food. Where’s open? Let’s go grab something at Taco Bell. How that hasn’t had its own replica or how that hasn’t had its own type of connection in some type of way. And not that I think that that’s a brand that’s ever tried to shy away from that. But when I’m thinking about, where does this go in the future? What other brands have opportunities sitting there? Why we haven’t seen that.

Marcus [00:55:12]:

It requires a knowing yourself right to thyself, be true, to thy own self, be true. What Lauryn Hill says, how are you going to win if you ain’t right within, if you don’t know who you are? To be able to amass gravitational pull of people, it’s really difficult. So to first know, this is who I am, and then have enough courage to say, this is who I am. So this is who I’m going to be. Like, I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not. I’m going to be myself and find the people who see the world the way I do. To find people who navigate the world like me are my congregation, as it were. And for McDonald’s, their congregation were fans, not people who eat McDonald’s, not trying to convince the people who are like, yeah, I eat fries every now and again.

Marcus [00:56:01]:

Great, cool. Feel free to come eat. But we’re not talking to you, we’re talking to fans. And what happens is that those fans go, yo, this is the thing, and this is the interesting part that we’ve been talking about this from a qualitative perspective, from a case study perspective, but it’s also fortified quantitatively. So you take the normal curve as we know it, the gaussian curve, right? The bell curve, the normal curve. And we know the normal curve is that everything abides by that distribution. That is normal, that is not human made, that’s organic. And the thing is that the more in the middle you are, the more normal you are.

Marcus [00:56:34]:

The normal curve, right? So, like, if you’re in school, if you’re in the normal curve, you’re getting a b. Great. As long as I’m in the curve, all good, right? Because there’s safety in the curve. The thing about the curve, though, is that a lot of marketers focus on that part of the distribution because the majority of people are there. So the idea is that I want scale. So I’m going to reach out to the biggest population of people in hopes that I reach them and prayerfully, God willing, inshallah, they’ll actually take action.

Dan Runcie [00:57:03]:


Marcus [00:57:03]:

That’s the sales funnel. The challenge is that those people in the middle, those are people that are the least likely to do anything new. Their entire existence is a risk aversion strategy. They are normal by doing what everyone else does, right? They’re looking to see, are you all buying that? Are we watching that? Are we going to buy this? Are we listening to that album? We’re going to see that movie. And they don’t move until everyone else. So if you’re trying to get those people to move, you are really wasting your resources trying to provoke them to take action, to do something they’re not inclined to do. Instead find the people who are on the fringes, that by their very nature they are a socially deviant. They’re going to do things that is not normal, that is not like everybody else.

Marcus [00:57:47]:

Not only that, that they have a set of convinced expectations that keep them close together. And what we know of everything that is normal, that it always start french. Everything that is popular culture always starts subculturally and work its way into the population. And that requires sort of subverting our conventional wisdoms. Conventional wisdoms is blast the biggest market opportunity possible. What McDonald’s did said like, hey, we’re going to go after these groups of people because we believe that those people are not only the first to move, but that they’re going to be sort of the spark that ignites the forest fire. And that’s exactly what happens. So for marketers, they go, whoa, how did McDonald’s do that? This is how they did that.

Marcus [00:58:31]:

They got close, and then they figure out who they are and they say, we’re going to be unapologetically ourselves. We’re going to embrace the lovers and ignore the haters. And you get this kind of turnaround. Maybe I should give that a shot.

Dan Runcie [00:58:43]:

And if it can work for a brand like McDonald’s, it can work for any type of brand, depending on what the consumer is, what the base is. There’s always an angle to make this type of thing work.

Marcus [00:58:52]:

And the better we understand that, the more likely we are to see the results that are in line to our expectations. And this what it requires at the end of the day, Dan, it requires understanding humanity. It’s really what it means. Marketing is the act of going to market. And why do we go to market? To get people to adopt behavior. Well, what gets people to adopt behavior? We have to understand people to know that. Now you and I know this factually, that there’s no external force more influential in human behavior than culture, full stop. But understanding culture requires a tremendous, tremendous understanding of people.

Marcus [00:59:29]:

And then to be able to impact or contribute to culture requires even greater understanding, and it’s rarefied air markers. Who could do that? Well, right? You look at Steve Stout, you look at Daryl Cobb, and you look at those early disruptors in the space that made way for folks like me and you to contribute to the cultural discourse in ways that drive consumption but also add some value back to the community.

Dan Runcie [00:59:56]:

Says a lot about where we are today and why. I don’t think it’ll be another 30 years until we see the next wave of these things. I think we’ll continue to see them and their own different ways, and I’m excited to see how these things develop. But good stuff, as always. Is there anything else to share on this topic before we close things out?

Marcus [01:00:14]:

And we’ve given a lot of love to McDonald’s, I just want to do one more underscore of the love to McDonald’s, pardon the pun, that their success has come not because they are quote unquote better marketers, because I would argue that the marketers from before were good marketers, too. They were good at bringing products to market. This group, this regime of marketers at McDonald’s, they are insatiably curious. They are very curious about people. So they don’t go in saying, we have a product. How do I get people to buy this thing? Right? They don’t talk about customers. They talk about fans. So much so that they don’t think of themselves as a company talking to customers.

Marcus [01:01:04]:

They think of themselves as fans talking to fans. And therefore, they don’t see people as machines. We eat messages and crap cash. They see them as real life human beings. And they say to themselves, do I know these people? If I don’t know these people, then I need to get closer, right? Never the boxes, never the demographic makeups, but an understanding of fans and their fandom, the cultural characteristics of what it means to be a fan. And then they say to themselves, how do we contribute to this? It’s an ongoing discourse among them. And that’s why the work continues to get better and better and better and more impactful and more successful. This is all about humanity.

Marcus [01:01:48]:

The better we understand people, the better the marketing becomes. And those folks, the biggest hat tip to those guys, they’re just doing it.

Dan Runcie [01:01:56]:

And for people like you and me that work in this culture and want to see things continue, this is the stuff that keeps us excited to know that what’s on the horizon, what’s coming, is only going to be better and better. Marcus, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you as always. And again, congrats on the award must feel good, especially in a chat like this. This is huge.

Marcus [01:02:14]:

It’s great, man. Just to have laid one small brick on the edifice that has been the mcdonald’s turnaround story. It’s an honor, truly. And I get to work with them still, even having left wine Kennedy, I get to work with them pretty intimately and see how they work and how they think. It’s inspiring for me as a practitioner and as an academic.

Dan Runcie [01:02:36]:

So we may have to tap you back in for the next big campaign that they do.

Marcus [01:02:40]:

You know another one’s coming. You know it’s coming.

Dan Runcie [01:02:42]:

Oh, yeah, for sure. Thank you as always, man.

Marcus [01:02:44]:

Always. Thanks, ma’am.

Dan Runcie [01:02:47]:

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend. Send it to one or two people you think would really get value out of listening to this episode. And while you’re at it, if you could rate and review the show, that would be great. Rate the podcast on Apple Podcasts. Rate the podcast on Spotify. Rate the podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. That helps make sure that the word gets out about capital and what we’re building here. Thanks again for listening.

Dan Runcie [01:03:12]:

Talk to you next time.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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