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McDonald's HK announces coffee 'retirement': A bold move or a potential misstep?

McDonald's HK announces coffee 'retirement': A bold move or a potential misstep?

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McDonald’s Hong Kong has made a big splash recently to announce the “retirement” of certain coffee items on its menu, including the ground and premium roast coffee, on print ads and social media.

Don't miss: McDonald's HK buys out full page print ad to announce product discontinuation

This has caused a fair bit of chatter and disappointment among HongKongers. According to media intelligence firm CARMA, sentiments of social conversations revolving the announcement are partially negative at 25.2% negative and 18.4% positive.

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“While there are some comments asking if the coffee is not making money, others said given the culling of the products is so heavily publicised, it is an obvious marketing move,” said Divika Jethmal, regional marketing manager, CARMA Asia.

On the other hand, social monitoring firm Meltwater saw 10.8% negative, 17.8% positive and 71.3% neutral sentiments regarding McDonald’s decision to discontinue the two coffee items.

Explaining the idea behind the move, Tina Chao, chief marketing and digital customer experience officer, McDonald's HK, told MARKETING-INTERACTIVE that the move aimed to be unmissable and become the talk of the town, so instead of using a large quantity of channels and smaller placements, the brand opted for maximum impact in a timely manner.

She added:

A full-page newspaper ad, radio spots, and the Cross Harbor Tunnel billboards are excellent ways to capture people’s attention during their morning commute.

While the move smells suspiciously like a marketing stunt, Chao said that rather than a one-off publicity stunt, the brand viewed this as a bold creative move aimed at generating intrigue and drawing attention to the upgrade in its coffee offering.

“We were confident in taking such a bold direction because it was rooted in consumer research, which told us how well McCafé is received among coffee enthusiasts, not only for its taste but also for its value and convenience. This, in the first place, is why we made the decision to democratise this experience for all of Hong Kong.”

Creatively crafted social campaign or potential PR crisis? 

It is understandable that some netizens might have been confused and disappointed with the sudden discontinuation of certain coffee products, especially the loyal and devoted fans of the ground and premium roast coffee. However, industry players MARKETING-INTERACTIVE spoke to agreed that the campaign was a bold move.

David Ko, managing director, RFI Asia, said using the word “retire” implies that the coffee products have served their purpose and are ready to leave the stage, it also creates a sense of nostalgia and urgency among the customers, who might want to have a last sip of their favourite coffee before it is gone.

He believed that this potential marketing stunt was successful in terms of creating buzz because it generated a lot of social media conversations, media coverage, and public attention. He added:

The stunt may also create a sense of curiosity and anticipation among the customers, who may want to try out the new McCafé products and compare them with Pacific Coffee or Starbucks.

On the creative front, Chris Kyme, creative director of creative agency Kymechow, said this is a great example of how social media can be generated by what a brand does in traditional media. He said:

The execution is bold and simple, and it worked[…]I have no issue with the word 'retire', seems relevant to me. If they had announced 'replaced' then the teaser idea doesn't work.

In fact, the term "retire" can indeed be a bold choice in the context of a marketing campaign, as it implies a significant change or end of an era, according to Stephen Chung, director of local creative agency Secret Tour Hong Kong.

However, Chung added that its effectiveness would depend greatly on the specifics of the campaign and how it's framed. He added:

If it's used to communicate a positive change, such as an upgrade or improvement, it could create a sense of anticipation and excitement among customers.

Taking manageable risks is essential 

In today's marketing landscape, advertising has evolved beyond just having a great idea. It now involves a combination of public relations (PR) and advertising to effectively reach and engage with the target audience.

In fact, managing public perception is a key part of any campaign, said Secret Tour’s Chung. “It's important to monitor discussions on social media and other platforms to gauge consumer reactions and adjust the campaign as necessary. Sometimes we may even need to actively set the agenda on these platforms to help guide the conversation and address any concerns,” he added.

Taking calculated risks is also necessary in the realm of creativity, according to Desmond So, CEO, Uth Creative. He appreciated brands that demonstrate bravery by openly addressing such issues and turning them to topics of conversation. 

He added:

I believe this campaign poses a manageable risk for the brand. Consequently, rather than causing significant harm, it presents an opportunity to establish a daring and bold image for McDonald's.

Related articles:

KFC HK brings on the 'FING FING' spirit with billboards leveraging optical trick
UNIQLO's Mother's Day Japanese print ad draws mixed reactions from HK netizens

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