McDonald’s escalates chicken sandwich wars with merch drop

Dive Brief:

  • McDonald’s is launching a multichannel stunt to promote its new Crispy Chicken Sandwich. The company’s CHKNDrop.com website will offer a limited-edition capsule collection for $5 starting at noon ET on Feb. 18, per an announcement.
  • The collection includes a seven-inch vinyl record with a music track produced by Tay Keith that will debut in McDonald’s ads for the Crispy Chicken Sandwich. The capsule also has a limited-edition hoodie and a gift card to order the sandwich on Feb. 23, one day before McDonald’s adds the sandwich to its menu nationwide.
  • McDonald’s rollout of the Crispy Chicken Sandwich comes as quick-service chains including Popeyes and KFC aim to compete with Chick-fil-A, which has grown into the third-biggest restaurant chain behind McDonald’s and Starbucks, by offering their chicken sandwiches.

Dive Insight:

McDonald’s launch campaign for its new Crispy Chicken Sandwich is the latest salvo in the escalating chicken sandwich wars among quick-service restaurants, and it is consistent with the chain’s past efforts to target younger consumers by offering branded merchandise.

After creating the the Big Mac Lifestyle Collection in 2015 with a humorous “McWalk” fashion show in Stockholm, McDonald’s has continually offered merchandise collections to draw attention to new menu items or services. McDonald’s branded merchandise efforts have included its limited-edition McDelivery Collection to promote its online ordering and delivery services in 2017 and custom loungewear collection to promote delivery from Uber Eats in 2019. The QSR even set up a permanent e-commerce site to sell branded merchandise year-round. In February 2020, McDonald’s launched the Quarter Pounder Fan Club that included products inspired by the menu item.

The pandemic halted many of those merchandising efforts as McDonald’s suspended promotional activities during the first half of 2020, when many restaurants were forced to close dining rooms or operate at limited capacity. With a renewed focus on a “three Ds” strategy that emphasizes drive-thru, delivery and digital, McDonald’s pledged to increase marketing spend in the U.S. and global markets by $200 million in the second half of 2020 to make up for suspended campaigns.

Its promotions included the collaboration with rapper Travis Scott on a combination meal that led to ingredient shortages, and one with reggaeton star J Balvin. The vinyl record featuring Tay Keith, the producer behind Scott’s hit song “Sicko Mode,” now continues McDonald’s efforts to embed itself into pop music culture. The chain also introduced menu items like Spicy Chicken McNuggets that it promoted with its quirky “Spicesurance” campaign in September. This month, McDonald’s started celebrating Lunar New Year with a multichannel campaign that includes merchandise sales.

McDonald’s shift to digital, delivery and drive-thru services helped to boost same-store sales in the U.S. 5.5% in the fourth quarter of 2020. As part of its quarterly earnings announcement, McDonald’s last month said it would open 500 new restaurants in the U.S. and spend $500 million modernizing 1,200 locations.

The rollout of the Crisply Chicken Sandwich is its latest effort to meet demand for a high-growth product. The growing popularity of Chick-fil-A led Popeyes chicken to start the “chicken sandwich wars” in August 2019 with its version of the item. The sandwich proved to be popular for Popeyes, driving same-store sales growth and boosting yearly revenue about $400,000 at every location, CNBC reported. Yum Brands’ KFC this year entered the fray by replacing the Crispy Colonel sandwich with a new menu item. Burger King, which is owned by Popeyes’ parent company Restaurant Brands International, announced on Feb. 17 that it will introduce a new chicken sandwich later this year.

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