McDonald’s Subculture Marketing Speaks to Gen Z

How McDonald’s captures Gen Z’s attention by leaning into “fan truths” and subculture marketing.
March 24, 2024
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travis scott action figure next to Mcdonald's burger

According to the “Most Magnetic Brands” report from research and consulting firm dcdx, McDonald’s claimed the number one spot last year for the brand that attracted the most Gen Z conversation.

They won by leaning into “fan truths”—moments, memories, rituals, or behaviors related to McDonald’s that intersect with subcultures involving celebrities, music, fashion, childhood nostalgia, anime, and more, per Adage.

Finding the subsequent subculture to speak to is a mix of art and science. McDonald’s marketing team uses consumer data from its 150 million-member loyalty program, third-party delivery data, and social listening to spot trends they can bring to the masses.

Some individual campaigns include:

  • The Travis Scott Meal – McDonald’s teamed up with Travis Scott to promote his go-to meal, the fresh beef Quarter Pounder®* with Cheese, sizzling bacon, and crisp lettuce; medium World Famous Fries® with BBQ Sauce to dip, and a Sprite

  • WcDonald’s – McDonald’s teamed up with artist/illustrator Acky Bright and animation house studio pierrot to bring WcDonald’s – a part of anime’s most memorable movies and shows – to life through a savory WcDonald’s chili sauce, manga-inspired packaging, and original episodic shorts

  • Cactus Plant Adult Happy Meal – McDonald’s teamed up with the Cactus Plant Flea Market streetwear brand to create adult Happy Meal toys, which included McDonaldland characters

One key to McDonald’s success is that a trend must be relevant for 12 to 18 months, the time it takes for them to run through the campaign process. McDonald’s McRib NFT campaign failed to capture the attention of its audience because the trend faded almost as fast as it began.

While McDonald’s hasn’t revealed all the sales metrics behind its marketing campaigns – there is some anecdotal evidence that it works. After McDonald’s announced The Travis Scott Meal campaign, Quarter Pounder®* sales doubled in the first week.

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