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Blame millennials: McDonald’s candles smell like the future of marketing

In the Twitter era—from Supreme Oreos to an engagement ring made from Crystal Pepsi—no brand extension is too weird if it breaks through the noise.

Blame millennials: McDonald’s candles smell like the future of marketing
[Photos: McDonald’s; Supreme; Pepsi]
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It’s a romantic dinner at home. You light some candles to . . . you know . . . set the mood. You’ve placed them strategically around the room for optimal sensory bliss—the mantel, the shelf, the window sill, the table.

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Now it’s time to light them up. But which one goes first?

Sesame seed bun, ketchup, onions, beef, pickles, or cheese?

[Photo: courtesy of McDonald’s]
These are the scents in a six-pack of candles available as part of a new Quarter Pounder Fan Club, each scented for a corresponding ingredient in the canonical McDonald’s burger. Of course, if you need to imagine what these candles smell like when lit all together, all you need to do is wander within two miles of any McD’s.

Announced by the fast feeder and created with agency Wieden+Kennedy New York, the new fan club merch, available at Golden Arches Unlimited, includes the candles, matching Quarter Pounder mittens for couples, a calendar, a Quarter Pounder with Love locket, a fan club T-shirt and pin, and an “I’d rather be eating a Quarter Pounder” bumper sticker. Honk if you also like McDonald’s a little too much!

The answer to the question of why McD’s would do this is not complicated. The company has been selling out of all the products that it’s been selling since it first launched its full-blown e-commerce store in December.

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Not only that, but McD’s says it will gift a giant, bronze Quarter Pounder monument to the city that professes its QP love the most enthusiastically by Wednesday, February 26. Truly an honor for generations of residents and tourists to behold. Let’s just hope that it’s more Juicy Lucy than Scary Lucy.

The week brands jammed the culture

If you think branded burger ingredient candle sets are weird, then the last week or so has likely warped your mind. First, it was KFC teaming with Crocs for a special-edition, chicken bucket sandal (with chicken-leg-shaped Jibbitz that emitted a fried-chicken scent, of course). A day later, just before Valentine’s day, Pepsi unveiled the Crystal Pepsi Engagement Ring. For real. Crystal Pepsi was boiled down to its most basic carbon form, ground into a powder, then added to the process of making a 1.53-carat, lab-grown alternative diamond.

Thankfully it’s a contest giveaway and not sold for real, actual money. The contest runs through March 6, with the winner announced the week of March 16, just in time for what one must assume is the totally real National Proposal Day on March 20.

Forget diamonds. Marketing is forever.

Then on Tuesday, Oreo revealed that it was joining Louis Vuitton, Commes des Garcons, Nike, Champion, and many, many, many others in the illustrious (and arguably overcrowded) club of Supreme collaborators. It costs $8 for three of these cookies, a considerable markup considering a pack of 39 sells for around $3.50. eBay bidding is already up to more than $10,000. Hypebeast, indeed.

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Nothing says that the demand for bonkers branded-wear is for real than an Oreo that costs more than my sofa.

Naturally, then, brands are only too happy to run out the door to meet it.

Products break through the noise

Consider the tens of thousands of advertising messages and images that each of us sees every day, and the challenge for brands to break through all that noise is clear. No longer is it enough to produce a well-conceived, perfectly executed commercial or ad and pay to put it in front of our eyes during a popular TV show. That’s for chumps. Sure, there’s the Super Bowl, the Oscars, and a handful of other collectively consumed cultural moments left on the calendar, but these opportunities have become few and far between.

So here we are putting all our hopes on winning earned media roulette—aka free press coverage. That’s the golden ticket, and high-profile—and downright weird—collaborations and brand extensions like these are the most blatant attention grabs, created for the sole purpose of using the novelty as a news hook. It began with stunts and one-off videos about fake products, which evolved into producing real products, which has now evolved into creating retail-quality novelty goods that people will actually pay for.

Hey, it works! Here I am writing about it, right? For further proof, just search for any examples cited in this story to see the reams of digital ink spilled on them. As a result of all that media attention, this past week is merely a sign of more to come.

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Joining the culture club

Talking to industry sources about it, these seemingly random forays into unexpected merchandise are the next evolution in brands’ never-ending quest to become a part of culture. There is a virtuous cycle, in which when a brand makes something like a T-shirt or burger-scented candles, it’s essentially asking permission to participate in pop culture, and the reaction determines whether that permission is granted or not. If it is, the brand needs to find the next way that it can surprise and delight fans in a new way. Oreo? Popeyes? In the club. KFC? In the VIP room. Dunkin’? Sitting outside on the curb. McDonald’s? At the velvet rope bouncing on the balls of its feet waiting to see if it earns the nod.

With each successful stunt, audience expectations only rise. These high hopes are then foisted onto any brand that decides to try its hand at merchandise. Gone are the days when a cheap novelty T-shirt will do.

Of course, along with this proliferation of logo-laden products will come inevitable novelty fatigue. Soon enough, fast-food-branded high heels will no longer raise any eyebrows, much less inspire any positive tweets or eBay frenzies. To avoid such a tragic fate, the smart brands will start steering away from these broad attention-getters and tailor their product drops to specific audiences and niche fans, like gamers, dog lovers, 19th-century Ukrainian folk-music aficionados, and so on.

I, for one, can’t wait for the day when I can buy a pair of moldy Whopper gaming headphones.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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