On Friday afternoon in the spring of 2020, Hope Bagozzi, director of marketing for Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons, called Zoom with Justin Bieber’s representatives.
Agenda of the meeting? Exploring a possible partnership between two great Canadian personalities.
The call was ordinary, but took a surreal turn when, suddenly, Ms. Bagozzi remembered, the black box that had been silent on the screen turned on, showing the presence of Mr. Bieber himself. He talked about how he likes to eat Timbits, bite-sized donuts in a restaurant. At one point, Mr. Bieber pulled out his guitar to sing a song about Tim Hortons, which he sang to his siblings.
“I was texting my husband, ‘Justin Bieber is singing to us,’” Ms. Bagozzi said, laughing. “You could knock me off my chair.”
The call resulted in Timbiebs, a limited edition donut hole with pop star and staff chef Tim Hortons’ flavors, including chocolate white fondant and birthday cake waffles. They hit restaurants in November.
Welcome to the age of celebrity happy food. Fast food companies are trying to align their products with supernew musicians and influencers in the hopes that their menu items will appeal to a younger audience. For consumers, this is a relatively cheap and easy way to connect with their favorite celebrities or influencers.
Many megastars courted by companies are more than willing to collaborate, sometimes initiating partnerships themselves. After seeing Mr. Bieber’s deal, Michael Bublé posted a video on TikTok in which he proposed his own donut-based collaboration: Bublébits.
Dunkin teamed up with Charlie D’Amelio. We had lunch with Lil Huddy at Burger King. Megan T Stallion has her own sauce with Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen (which is called “hot sauce”, of course). McDonald’s cooked meals with Saweetie, BTS, Jay Balvin and Travis Scott. In November, eight people died and dozens were injured during Mr. Scott’s performance at the Astroworld festival in Houston. According to the company, the contractor’s partnership with McDonald’s ended in 2020.
McDonald’s is partnering with Christmas Queen Mariah Carey this month to promote 12-day discounts on her favorite products, available only through the chain’s app. While Ms. Carey previously said she only eats Norwegian salmon and capers, the performer’s favorites at McDonald’s seem to include big macs, hotcakes, and chocolate chip cookies.
According to analysts and observers, this trend in partnerships is proving to be a boon for restaurants and celebrities. It also helps companies better understand the behavior of young consumers.
For some chains, celebrities are powerful bait that can entice customers to download restaurant apps or join loyalty programs to get food, discounts, or even free food. McDonald’s have downloaded 10 million downloads of their app since they started cooking celebrity meals in September 2020, which is a significant jump.
“It’s clear that McDonald’s is using celebrities to attract younger generations to their app as a great touchpoint for Gen Z,” said Lauren Hawkenson, product marketing manager at Sensor Tower, which tracks app downloads and ad spend.
By offering rewards and a loyalty program, McDonald’s “hopes that the same consumer will come back to the app and find McDonald’s is a cool, smart and trendy place to buy food,” she said.
These celebrity partnerships also help brands gain access to where millions of digital natives spend their time: Instagram, TikTok and other social media platforms.
“If you think about the goal we’re focusing on, which is youth and youth culture, that’s where they live,” said Jennifer Hylan, McDonald’s vice president of Marketing, Brand Content and US Engagement.
Even before Dunkin teamed up with Charlie D’Amelio, it was clear to her TikTok followers (currently over 130 million) that the 17-year-old brunette loved the chain’s drinks; She has frequently posted videos and clips of her sipping coffee while dancing or showing off her outfit of the day. “There wasn’t a day she didn’t go without her Dunkin,” said Ali Berman, head of digital talent and partner at United Talent Agency, which represents Ms. D’Amelio.
In September 2020, when Dunkin ‘debuted Charli – Dunkin’ iced coffee with whole milk and three caramel swirls – and Ms D’Amelio advertised the drink on her social media, the result was a record for daily activity. Dunkin ‘app users, company executives said during a teleconference last year. (The company did not respond to requests for comment.)
For Dunkin, “the partnership was simple. The company didn’t have to spend weeks or months creating new flavored coffees or coming up with smart new names. “We took an existing product, renamed it after her, and positioned it to appeal to a younger consumer,” said Scott Murphy, president of Dunkin ‘Americas, in the same profit and loss statement. (Dunkin later introduced another D’Amelio drink, Charli Cold Foam, which was simply Charli with a little cinnamon sugar and cold foam added.)
Before long, TikTok was inundated with free Dunkin ‘promotion as young people posted videos of them sipping Charlis. Likewise, when McDonald’s was selling Travis Scott’s food, the rapper’s fans would record videos of them performing his song “Sicko Mode” as they ordered and then post the video on TikTok.
“Young people are becoming unintentional marketers,” said Frances Fleming-Milici, director of marketing initiatives at the University of Connecticut’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health. “Companies don’t have to pay for this organic content and all the TikTok people make.”
Often the target of these campaigns is advertising that comes from interactions with social media. Megan T Stallion touted her partnership with Popeyes, owned by Restaurant Brands International, in October this year in a five-minute YouTube video “Hottie Sauce Mukbang.” On Instagram, she shared a video in which her best friends order and taste the sauce.
Even before the sauce was available at Popeyes restaurants, “we started noticing an immediate reaction from people just by posting it and releasing a press kit,” said Bruno Cardinali, Popeyes Marketing Director. “Social networks have been v thing in this campaign. “
These downloads and app subscriptions also enable fast food companies to collect customer data. Restaurant chains like McDonald’s are trying to track how customers place orders and specifically pinpoint where, what time, how often and how they pay, said Kelly Martin, a marketing professor at Colorado State University who studies customer data privacy issues.
Starbucks has done particularly well with its loyalty reward program, according to Dr. Martin. “Thanks to the customer data they were able to collect through their program, they were able to significantly increase the value per customer.”
The purpose of data collection for most restaurants is to change customer behavior. It can be used to send push notifications with special offers that are designed to get customers to return to a restaurant more often or buy more items when they return, according to Keith Hogenson, chief consultant at Mallett Group, a loyalty consulting firm. She thinks that in this case it is good.
According to Ms. Hogenson, the interests of these companies and their clients “now coincide.” “If I’m McDonald’s and get a kick out of Saweetie food and people are attracted to it, now I want them to join my loyalty program and I’ll be better at tracking them, but I’ll compensate them for the free stuff. “
The power of star support
Critics say partnerships, which mostly target younger audiences, should target healthier eating options. Miss D’Amelio’s Cold Foam Medium at Dunkin contains 50 grams of sugar. Lil Huddy’s food at Burger King goes beyond the spicy chicken sandwich and mozzarella sticks and the chocolate cocktail. Including the shake, it contains over 2,400 calories and nearly 100 grams of fat.
“Celebrity support is especially important for kids,” said Josh Golin, CEO of Fairplay, a nonprofit that studies the impact of marketing on children. “They’re starting to associate this celebrity with the brand, and they want this junk food even if it’s not directly advertised to them.”
While kids can discern product ads that interrupt TV shows, Golin says the boundaries blur when it comes to paid content on social media. He added that it can be difficult for children to protect themselves from promotions coming from an influencer they follow.
Representatives for McDonald’s and Restaurant Brands International, which owns Popeyes, Burger King and Tim Hortons, said in emails that they are responsive to children under the age of 12 and suggest healthier options. “In terms of our celebrity-inspired dishes, we understand they can be popular with younger guests and we strive to be enjoyed within the limited time frame they are offered,” added Leslie Walsh. spokesman for the restaurant. Brands International.
Celebrities and fast food brands did not say how much they make from these deals, and those contacted for this article declined to answer.
This success means that this trend will not disappear anytime soon. Indeed, there are an infinite number of bindings for celebrities and influencers.
When A3 Artists Agency agents discovered that one of their clients, YouTuber Larrey, was working at Subway as a teenager, they immediately thought: a partnership.
According to Jade Sherman, partner and head of digital at the agency, “We reached out to Subway and said, ‘You guys have to do something.’