All Those McCafe Promos Aren't From McDonald's

Traditionally Top-Down Marketer Leaving Initial Efforts Up to Franchisees

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CHICAGO ( -- With McCafe Mondays, McCafe trucks, McCafe locators and UnsnobbyCoffee, you'd think McDonald's had started advertising its McCafe products.

Free samples were given away at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Dallas.
Free samples were given away at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Dallas.
The fast feeder won't begin national advertising until midyear, but a number of franchisees already have the products in place and have been looking to boost traffic for the new attraction by way of regional advertising. Regional cooperatives are building a rare bottom-up marketing strategy for the traditionally monolithic marketer.

The store renovations, at about $100,000 apiece, generally require franchisees to take on loans -- many of them high-interest in this environment -- and McDonald's owner-operators are looking for ways to build traffic that will help foot the bill. Franchisees make up 8,000 of the chain's 14,000 U.S. locations.

Helping consumers locate McCafe
There's also the matter of helping consumers figure out which restaurants have the products and which don't. Southern California franchisees are trying to get ahead of any confusion with a McCafe Locator.

"McCafe is a rolling introduction," said McDonald's franchisee Scott Frisbie, a second-generation McDonald's franchisee with 17 restaurants. "You can't just flip a switch and say, 'Everyone's selling it.' We thought, why don't we build a website location function so that someone wants it, boom, they can find it? They don't have to get on the phone and call around."

Mr. Frisbie has McCafe products available at eight of his restaurants. He began selling them last December. So far sales of McCafe drinks, including mochas, lattes and cappuccinos, have exceeded expectations. "It's been truly fantastic," he said. "I don't think I can overexaggerate the response. People like it. People are surprised we have it, because it's not something we typically have, and I think they're surprised at the quality." He added that Southern California has an ethnically diverse -– and coffee-centric -- culture. Coffee is particularly important in Hispanic culture, he said, so "we thought that might be a challenge for us initially."

McDonald's spokeswoman Danya Proud said when national creative hits in the coming weeks, some markets will have been selling McCafe drinks for as long as three years. She said the ads, which haven't been completed yet, will reflect learning from regional rollouts -- the opposite of the company's usual top-down approach. The chain did offer a peek at national marketing efforts, becoming the official coffee of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, with free drinks for everyone during the event.

DDB, Chicago, has primary creative duties for McCafe. Arc Worldwide is handling promotional work, and GolinHarris is manning the PR effort. McDonald's media-buying agency is OMD. The chain's ethnic agencies include Burrell, Alma DBB and IW Group. Tribal DDB is handling digital.

Highly unusual rollout
This is a highly unusual time for McDonald's, which hasn't undertaken a rollout of this magnitude since the 1970s. Even then, Mr. Frisbie said, that was one product at a time, and didn't require a massive capital investment.

McDonald's has said giveaways will always be at the heart of any new product offering, particularly following the success of "Free Coffee Mondays" in the Chicago and Northern Indiana market, which Leo Burnett Worldwide handles. The program designed to launch the chain's premium coffee was so successful that the region is now offering "Free McCafe Mondays," with outdoor advertising support.

Moroch partnered with the New Orleans Saints to create halftime activities, with the goal of giving free McCafe coupons to everyone in attendance.
Moroch partnered with the New Orleans Saints to create halftime activities, with the goal of giving free McCafe coupons to everyone in attendance.
Moroch, which handles regional advertising in more than 60 markets, including Greater Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Northwest Florida, Detroit, Houston and New Orleans, has created a variety of McCafe launch programs, generally built around giveaways. In Houston, McCafe trucks idle in parking lots, giving drinks away. In Dallas, they gave away samples at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. In Detroit, there have been "First Friday Extravaganzas" at the MGM Grand Casino, giving drinks away to 300 or more consumers at a time. In New Orleans, Moroch partnered with the NBA's New Orleans Hornets to create activities at halftime, with the goal of giving free McCafe coupons to everyone in attendance. To celebrate Teacher Appreciation Day in Philadelphia, McDonald's is offering a free small McCafe drink to each of the city's 100,000 school teachers.

The cooperative that easily and perhaps necessarily made the biggest splash was McDonald's of Western Washington. The region includes Seattle, where Starbucks is headquartered. Last year, the region launched McCafe drinks and the website, which lets consumers stage "interventions" for friends who are "paying too much for their coffee." Subsequent billboards have said, "Four bucks is dumb." Last week Starbucks said a coming campaign will combat the notion that its coffee costs $4.

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