Food & Beverage

A Tale of Two Collabs

How McDonald's slung the best and the worst of collabs, and what you can learn from them.


  • Your best collab may be hiding in plain sight
  • A great collab takes on a life of its own
  • Make a hero of your partner to make a hero of yourself
  • Authentic wins. Trendy withers
  • Be “All In” or not in at all

The Best of Collabs. The Travis Scott Meal…the simple September 2020 collab with supersized results.

The insight behind the Travis Scott Meal is so simple it’s shocking. Everyone, no matter how famous or successful, has a favorite McDonald's meal. A “go-to”order. Rapper and songwriter Travis Scott’s is a quarter pounder with cheese, medium fries, BBQ Sauce to dip, and a Sprite. 

That’s it. So far, so ordinary.

So McDonald’s took that order, priced it at $6, and for one month in September 2020, everyone could eat just like Travis.

Add in unique new “Cactus Jack” custom apparel for McDonald's crew to wear for the month and now they’re really “thinking outside the bun”. Customers got their hands on the swag too with limited editions of everything from jeans, tees, hoodies, and even chicken nugget pillows for customers to buy. 

Truly the recipe for the ultimate “crushed-it” collab.

The genius, of course, was that all this buzz required absolutely no expensive or complex changes to the operation of the restaurant. All the ingredients for the meal were already and always there. (A real boon during covid-inspired supply chain shortages). 

A change of packaging and signage was all it took to light the fuse. And light it, it did.

The "Travis Scott Meal" was so successful that numerous locations ran out of quarter-pounder ingredients. The merchandise sold out in days, with some items lasting only seconds, and formerly reluctant Gen Z customers piled on, finding their way to the drive-thru window…many for the first time.

McDonald’s even accidentally created a new lingo for placing an order for the meal. For the month, social media was alive with new phrases being coined. Inspired by Scott’s own “Cactus Jack sent me.” the audience invented new phrases like“It’s lit, sickomode,” “I want the fornite guy burger,” or “You know why I am here” often said while playing Travis Scott music in the background. 

A collab with its own evolving language needs no further superlatives.

But for all the buzz, what can a one-month wonder really do for the bottom line?

Quite a lot as it happens;

According to Forbes, “McDonald’s debuted the meal in September, and its U.S. same-store sales swung from an 8.7% drop in the second quarter, at the height of virus lockdowns, to a 4.6% gain in the third”. A 13.3% swing in revenues is its own “epoch of incredulity”.

Importantly, Travis Scott also made $15 million in merchandise sales and $5 million for the meal collaboration.

No wonder McDonald’s, their Customers and Travis Scott were all “lovin’ it”.

The Worst of Collabs. The McPlant

It didn’t go well. Need we say more? I think we should.

In retrospect of course, the McPlant flop is as easy to pick apart as it is to de-pickle your Big Mac. But going in, a plant-based burger that looked, tasted and bled like the real thing seemed like easyriding a ballooning swell of consumer demand on a Big Mac-supersized longboard.

And who knows, it might have worked. But now, just a few months on from starting the test pilot. The McPlant is no more. The swell was barely a ripple.

Commentators have sought to blame everything from the slow-moving tastes of the typical core mid-west customer, the decision to grill the vegan patty on the same animal fat griddle as the meat burgers (a mistake they avoided in Europe where the burger has had some staying power) and the fact that McDonald’s simply has no credit in the meat-free bank. 

Missing the core while alienating the intended customer and having no authentic credentials is, after all, the holy trinity of the dud launch.

But these issues haven’t affected Burger King’s “Impossible” burgers to anything like the same extent. There must be something more to it. The difference is that Burger King has been considerably more committed to the collab and to elevating the Impossible brand through it.

McDonald’s lack of commitment to its collab is enshrined in the name they gave it. 

The McPlant as a name is, to say the very least, “uninspired”. Couple this with McDonald’s collab “partner” Beyond Meat, the provider of the patty, getting less than even second billing. More of a grudging acknowledgment with a tiny flag planted in the bun on the promo materials. 

Trialed in only 600 of its 13,000 stores, The McPlant (with Beyond Meat) was doomed from the start by a lack of faith in the idea and commitment to the collab partner. 

It seems McDonald’s felt Beyond Meat couldn’t pull its weight as a brand and wasn’t prepared to change its operations to accommodate a new customer on the one point it simply had to if it was to overcome their skepticism.

The name is a clue to how invested McDonald's was in its new menu item. What were the names that didn’t make the cut? How lacklustre could they have been, that “McPlant” got the nod above them? You can imagine the air going right out of the collab balloon when the decision was announced. The rest is history.

The absence of marketing courage and commitment is strange given the operational expense of putting a new menu item on, creating the patty itself, and training employees how to cook it, serve, and sell it. The list of operational changes was as enormous as the marketing effort was minimal.

The result? Less of a collab, more of a colla-pse.

In all highly damaging for Beyond Meat, whose stock fell 6% on the announcement that the trial was ending and slid a further 50% in the four months after.

Putting these two side by side what lessons can be learned for your collab?

First, the Travis Scott Meal worked as an idea because Travis Scott is at once an extraordinary rapper and also an ordinary McDonald's customer. His meal, was really his meal. The collab was dripping in authenticity.

Second, with the cool new limited edition Cactus Jack crew and customer apparel and the subculture ordering language, everyone could buy in. Suddenly it was cool for Gen Z to work at McDonald’s and to eat at McDonald’s. 

Third, this collab hit all the parts that advertising can't reach and required the minimum operational execution to achieve the maximum impact. 

Finally, McDonald’s celebrated Travis Scott and made him the hero of the collab. Collabs work best when the partners are invested in each other and committed to the other’s success. Travis Scott was the hero, and sadly Beyond Meat was not. Commitment was the key ingredient to the Travis Scott collab and the missing ingredient from Beyond Meat.

The Beyond Meat collab required the creation of a completely new product. A product that McDonald's was sufficiently nervous about that they didn't leverage the Beyond Meat brand or commit to the rollout operationally. A lack of commitment that fed through to the customer.

Un-authentic brand collaborations will come off as an uninspired attempt at ginning up hype without committing to the customer. This explains the demise of the McPlant. The Travis Scott Meal had the courage of its collab convictions. And got the results its commitment deserved.

Marketing has two vectors; Attention and Trust. McDonald's gained both with the Travis Scott collaboration, because they made sense to the audience and for the brand. The failure to commit to the Beyond Meat/ McPlant collab led to an erosion of trust.

If it's time for your brand to begin to its journey into collabs, then Colaboratory can get you off the sidelines and into the game with the confidence and commitment of a master. If you’d like to experience the magic of collabs for yourself, reach out to me @

Andy Heddle
Andy, heads up our business development work here at Colaboratory. Originally from England, he married a Scot and now lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two American-born daughters.