McDonald’s BTS meal launches today (21 June) in Singapore but will only be available via delivery services to prevent long queues, since we are in the middle of a pandemic. Given the frenzy the new celebrity meal has caused in several countries, this was probably a smart decision. As sales continue to rack up across the world, TheHomeGround Asia takes a peek into the lure of brand celeb-collabs, and imagines what collaborations would be hot/not.
Remember the good ol’ days when we had Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar gang?
Well, sad to say adorable mascots are no longer speaking to this generation. Instead welcome to a new era where familiar faces come in the form of celebrities, whose global fandoms power demand for the brand products they endorse.
McDonald’s latest familiar faces are the kings of K-Pop, boy band BTS who have taken the world by storm in the last couple of years. The result of their collaboration, the BTS meal, was launched in the US at the end of May and then went on to ‘tour’ nearly 50 countries worldwide, almost half of the 102 markets that McDonald’s has entered.
To circumvent the three-week-long ‘lockdown lite’, McDonald’s Singapore postponed the launch of the BTS meal in Singapore to 21 June, a move that has proven to be insightful. While we were stuck in our homes, A.R.M.Y. (BTS’s fandom) from dozens of countries racked up sales for McDonald’s BTS meals within the first week of its release. McDonald’s stores in Indonesia were reportedly forced to shut down due to an overwhelming number of orders.
In honour of BTS meals finally coming to Singapore today (21 June), TheHomeGround Asia takes a look at the culture of celebrity endorsements, and the huge success of the celeb-collab trend that McDonald’s has been promoting.
McDonald’s is no stranger to celeb collabs. Just last year, the fast-food giant featured collaborations with Travis Scott and J Balvin, both of which were huge successes. The Travis Scott collaboration in particular, created a record-breaking surge in demand so huge that McDonald’s Corp in the US nearly ran out of ingredients to assemble its signature Quarter Pounder burgers, and had to regulate sales and ingredient distribution at some of its restaurants. The limited promotion pushed McDonald’s shares to a record high of US$225.24, up by about one per cent.
K-Pop fans have proven time and again that they are on the next level. But it would be an understatement to say that global sales for BTS meals have gone through the roof. In just its first week, the BTS meal has raised traffic to stores by 12 per cent and has already exceeded the sales numbers brought in by its star-studded predecessor, the Travis Scott meal.
McDonald’s is not the only one to capitalise on BTS’s fame. One of the many customers who snagged herself one of BTS’ meals received a chicken nugget shaped oddly like an Among Us character, and walked away with a highest bid of US$99,997, when she put her ‘golden’ nugget up for auction on eBay for US$0.99, on 28 May.
The celeb-brand collab trend
When I say ‘Rihanna’, the first brand that comes to mind is FENTI X PUMA. Try thinking about Yeezy Adidas without picturing Kanye West. And when I mention Fendi’s Menswear line, Jackson Wang’s song, Fendi Man (Yes, this song was a hit, and yes, it was a paid collaboration) gets stuck in your head all over again.
Like it or not, celebrity-brand endorsements are about intertwining the celebrity’s and the brand’s names, creating an image that makes them synonymous with each other. After all, it is so much easier to connect to an audience when they are enamoured with the face of your brand.
While it has its perks, the bond between celebrity and brand also means that if one goes down, the other goes down with them, and vice versa. Brands drop celebrities for a variety of controversies and sometimes mistakes just happen. Oprah Winfrey was found promoting Window’s Surface tablet on her iPad; Hyundai dropped Chinese Olympic gold medallist Sun Yang for driving a Porsche without a license; McDonald’s itself has had to drop the late Lakers star Kobe Bryant when he was accused of rape in 2004.
In some cases, however, brands make surprising decisions, and so do celebrities. While several brands dropped Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps for drug use, like family-brand Kellogg’s, who criticised Phelps for being “inconsistent with the brand image”, Subway made a different calculation, based on its young adult target audience. Not only did it stand by Phelps, but it also designed an advertisement for him, titled Be Yourself, in the aftermath of his scandal.
The celebrity-brand collaboration is a delicate relationship that requires a picky selection and strong communication. All is well when you are making money together, but when the ship sinks, it is every man (or brand) for themselves.
The death of innovative flavours
When sales come as easily as paying for celebrity spokespeople, creativity is what pays the price. When an artist becomes commercialised, their art loses its meaning. For instance, going back to Fendiman, the hit song by Chinese K-Pop idol Jackson Wang clinched the number one spot on the US iTunes chart, with Fendi repeated over 70 times in its lyrics. It was catchy, but it was more of a brand jingle than a song. And while it worked in Wang’s favour, the song says more about him as a viable spokesperson that brands are going to love, than it does about him as an artist.
The fact that fast-food brands are getting so much business and attention just by borrowing the name of celebrities also means that brands do not see the need for experimental flavours and recipes. McDonald’s celebrity-endorsed meals have been successful on the retail side but are simply repackaging existing items, with the occasional addition of new sauces. The Travis Scott meal included the popular Quarter Pounder with cheese and bacon, fries with barbecue sauce, and a Sprite, while the J Balvin meal sported even more common fare, consisting of a Big Mac sandwich, medium fries and an Oreo McFlurry.
Our star of the moment, the BTS meal, includes a Coke, nine pieces of McNuggets, and fries, which offers a little variation with special sweet chilli and cajun dipping sauces that the fast food chain claims was inspired by the band’s South Korean roots. Is it all style and not much substance, we wonder?
Where are the days when flavours used to matter? The McGriddles and Twister Fries we now get annually during McDonald’s new year promotions are fine examples of meals that have proven their popularity following a promotional period. Successful promotions were used as seasonal treats to sustain customer interest, while those that failed the trial (I am looking at you, Angry Bird Super Red burger) were never spoken of again.
It is too effortless on McDonald’s part to simply strap a celebrity’s name to existing products with innovation that barely goes beyond its packaging. Celebrity fans may buy into the magic of star power, but the rest of us are rolling our eyes at the obvious sales gimmick.
A sales gimmick
Needless to say, celebrity-brand collaborations are business-driven at their core. The truth is that from a business perspective, rather than trying to connect with an audience and make them interested in certain products, turning celebrity followers into consumers is much easier. The fantasy of enjoying something that has your idol’s approval stamp is simply an illusion that convinces customers to reach into their pockets.
BTS has reportedly received a whopping US$8.98 million for their brand promotions with McDonald’s, and their fans are making this a worthy investment for McDonald’s by powering demand worldwide. In addition to the BTS Meal, the septet’s company, HYBE, has also released a line of BTS X McDonald’s merchandise, which includes items such as hats, hoodies, socks and backpacks.
What is the correlation between fashion accessories and McDonald’s fast food, you ask? There really isn’t one but that does not matter, for McDonald’s golden arches have always been a prominent symbol of capitalism. It is a win-win-win situation if consumers enjoy the product. But even if they do not, it is a win-win situation where stars and brands are happy to line their pockets with staggering profits.
At the end of the day, McDonald’s has successfully made celebrity ‘Famous’ meals a trend that fans will love, and even naysayers and eye-rollers may give a try, out of curiosity or just to be part of the conversation. But are celebrity-brand endorsements the conversation that we want to be a part of? Food for thought.
TheHomeGround Asia’s imaginary list of celeb x brand collabs
We can’t deny that the glitz and glam of celebrity trends are inviting. So TheHomeGround Asia has drawn up our own wish list of dream celeb-brand collabs, and some of the worst possible collaborations, no matter how big of a fan you are.
Hot: BlackPink X Hello Kitty X McDonald’s
We begin our list with a triple-threat collaboration that is bound to bring the art of queuing back to our streets. Blackpink’s distinctly girly colour palette reminds us of the singing bone Hello Kitty stuff toy that bid for S$126,000 (US$93,921) on eBay when it was released in 2013. A line of BlackPink Hello Kitty dolls should help to re-spark the Kitty craze.
With their girl crush image and EDM hip hop sound, Blackpink’s popularity rivals that of BTS’s. And if McDonald’s can design meals for the kings of K-Pop, they can do the same for our queens.
Hot: Tom Ellis X Lux Soap
We think it is no coincidence that Lucifer’s nightclub shares the same name as the soap brand Lux. Talk about being on-brand! With all the sexy scenes that Lucifer is known for, it can’t be too hard to slip in a bit of product placement in the Devil’s shower.
Hot: Emilia Clarke X Apple
Game of Thrones (GOT) may have ended two years ago, breaking our hearts with the death of Daenerys Targaryen, but wouldn’t you like to hear the voice of the mother of dragons one last time? We think that Emilia Clarke should be the new voice of Siri, so GOT fans can make her repeat her iconic lines on loop.
For fire cannot kill a dragon. Apple will immortalise her.
Not: Justin Bieber and World Wide Fund For Nature
Animal lovers still cannot forget how a teenage Bieber, against the advice of his managing team, brought his pet Capuchin monkey, OG Mally, to Germany in 2013, where it was confiscated, sent to the local zoo, and likely traumatised in the process. Bieber was also banned by the Toronto authorities from posting pictures and having wild animals at social gatherings in 2016, after featuring a chained-up tiger at his father’s engagement party.
Is it too late now to say sorry? For OG Mally, probably. Bieber may love animals but we do not think wildlife conservation NGO WWF will be seeking out Bieber for representation anytime soon.
Not: Gwyneth Paltrow and any healthcare brands
The word that leaves us with a gloopy taste in our mouths is ‘goop’. The brand (and Paltrow for that matter) has developed a reputation for selling controversial treatments, like vaginal steaming (ouch), that are scientifically baseless and make potentially harmful claims.
As much as we hope that goop stops misleading its followers, Paltrow’s image as the money-making mogul behind goop probably makes her a bad match for any credible healthcare brand.
What other hot/not brand-collabs can you think of? Share them with us.