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Posters in McDonald’s windows, featuring phrases like “It’s Lit!” and “Straight Up!” along with suggestions that consumers approach the counter and state, “Cactus Jack sent me,” might seem confusing to a lot of people. But for followers of current music and pop culture, the marketing communications make perfect sense, offering a clear sense that their visit will get them a version of a Quarter Pounder with cheese, lettuce, and bacon, accompanied by fries with barbeque sauce and a Sprite.

The phrases are references to the musician Travis Scott, an artist known for his auto-tuned music (which might be categorized as hip hop, though he rejects that label), unique fashion style, collaborations with other artists, and shared parenthood of a daughter with Kylie Jenner. In an unprecedented endorsement agreement, Scott’s presence is basically unavoidable in McDonald’s locations these days. In addition to the Travis Scott meal (ordering it with the in-the-know mention of Cactus Jack is a reference to his music label), the collaboration features clothing (e.g., t-shirts, socks, ties, jackets), an action figure, lunchboxes, and rugs—as well as a McNugget body pillow.

Scott’s contributions to the collaboration are not particularly new for him. He runs, maintains, contributes to, or lends his name and images to various operations. In addition to his Cactus Jack record label, there is a music festival, Hot Wheels toys, a cereal, Nike products, and clothing lines that feature and leverage Scott’s personal brand image. He also appears in various media associated with the Kardashian/Jenner family, due to his personal and romantic links to Jenner.

But for McDonald’s, the link is quite unusual. The only other celebrity to have a named menu item in the past was Michael Jordan. Furthermore, the extent of the collaboration goes well beyond most endorsement deals, implying that the company believes people will not only want to eat Scott’s preferred meal but also be ready, for example, to wear a old-school brown McDonald’s work jacket emblazoned with its tagline, “Billions and Billions Served,” because Scott designed it.

Both the endorsement and the related marketing communications suggest an attempt by McDonald’s to attain a cooler, hip image among younger audiences. Whether they actually will embrace the collaboration beyond buying a meal or collecting a little toy, such that they would spend $128 for a jacked that makes them a walking billboard for McDonald’s, remains to be seen. Is that really cool enough for them? Reports that the promotional posters have been stolen from stores and sold on eBay, along with register receipts showing an order of “The Travis Scott” hint that the tactic is working. A growing selection of TikTok videos depict what happens when young patrons blast samples of his songs in response to the request, “May I take your order?” from drive-through employees.

But the deal creates some potential risks related to other stakeholders and target markets, which McDonald’s must consider as well. According to research that the company did prior to the launch, two-thirds of its franchisees opposed the promotion. Scott’s music includes some relatively risqué lyrics, and his videos feature some controversial content. For less hip, less cool consumers, such elements might be off-putting, as might the confusion prompted by the use of hip hop slang to support the campaign. Scott’s fans might giggle at the idea of a Boomer announcing “It’s Lit!” but McDonald’s would be ill-advised to seem as if it were trying to make some segments of consumers feel dumb.

Discussion Questions

  1. What are the benefits of this partnership for Travis Scott? McDonald’s?
  2. Would you buy, consume, or wear any of the McDonald’s–Travis Scott merchandise?
  3. Do you think this partnership will be successful? Why or why not?

Source: Jon Caramanica, “Travis Scott Meets McDonald’s (It’s Lit!),” The New York Times, September 11, 2020; Jonathan Maze, “Looking to Push an Advantage, McDonald’s Ramps Up Its Marketing,” Restaurant Business, September 15, 2020; “Travis Scott,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Travis_Scott