Why everyone wanted to get their hands on McDonald's MacCoins

McDonald's comms head Robert Gibbs on how the chain created a global pop culture phenomenon.

Why everyone wanted to get their hands on McDonald's MacCoins

Company: McDonald’s
Campaign: MacCoin
Agency mix: Golin (strategy, PR), in-house (strategy, execution)
Duration: August 2018 - December 2018

In honor of the Big Mac’s 50th anniversary, McDonald’s released the MacCoin. A winking reference to cryptocurrency, the physical coins could be used to redeem a free Big Mac.

The coins came in five designs and were handed out at select McDonald’s locations in more than 50 countries.

McDonald’s wanted to celebrate the Big Mac’s anniversary in a way that was universal, while still feeling personal.

"How do we demonstrate our excitement and love and bring that out in terms of what people feel when they order and eat it?" said Robert Gibbs, McDonald’s chief communications officer and EVP of corporate relations.

The team turned to the Economist’s Big Mac index, invented in 1986, which measures purchasing power parity between currencies via the cost of the distinctive burger in each country. McDonald’s has long provided the media organization with pricing information. As a company that spans more than 120 markets, the index seemed like a good vehicle to celebrate the Big Mac’s border-crossing popularity, while allowing customers to commemorate personal memories with a keepsake.

For Gibbs, the MacCoin transports him back to the first time he tried a Big Mac. He was 12, in the car with his mother, running late for Boy Scouts.

"It’s still my favorite item," he said.

McDonald’s sent out a brief for the campaign in September 2017. In October, it awarded the project to Golin, who had pitched the idea of issuing Big Mac coins. From there, it was a mad scramble to produce and distribute millions of coins by July 2018, so that they’d be ready for the Big Mac’s 50th anniversary on August 2.

There were many obstacles to overcome.

"[Molly McKenna, McDonald’s director of communications engagement] came to me and said, ‘We need six-to-nine months to do this,’ and I thought, ‘Really?’" Gibbs recalled. "And then you start to listen to the logistics of it, and you think, ‘Is six-to-nine months going to be long enough?’"

When creating the coin, McDonald’s had to be wary of legal and language requirements in 58-plus markets.

"It took quite a long time to determine the size and weight of the coin," McKenna said. "We had to be very careful that it wasn’t confused with any other currencies."

On July 29, McDonald’s released a global press release, which included visual assets for the media and a video of the coins being minted and distributed around the world.

The coins immediately caused a frenzy, both online and in many physical franchises "where the demand way outstripped the supply," said Gibbs. "It created a lot of really great, exciting content on social channels."

The campaign caught the media’s attention, with coverage by USA Today, Fast Company, Today.com, Quartz, and Fortune, among more than 930 additional earned media placements globally.

"From the beginning, the Big Mac was the star," said Caroline Dettman, Golin’s chief creative officer. "You don’t need to borrow the equity of celebrities when you have a great earned idea."

Of the more than 85,000 earned social mentions it generated worldwide, sentiment was 94% positive or neutral.

But for McKenna, the real measure of the MacCoin’s success was its infiltration into popular culture. In the U.S., the campaign was covered by The Skimm, Alexa’s Flash Briefing, and "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon," and celebrities such as actress Mindy Kaling tweeted their love for the MacCoin.

"From markets around the world, we saw similar influencer media coverage and interest," said McKenna. "Everyone wanted to get their hands on these coins."

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