McCafé: A "Fresh Baked" Approach to Engaging Consumers
Every year around this time, I write a couple of short pieces previewing the annual conference of the Custom Content Council for Content, the group’s own custom publication. The beauty of this assignment is two-fold: I learn about new developments from the forefront of content marketing, and I am privileged to interview interesting and influential people. This year was exceptional on both counts, highlighted by conversations with famed editor-in-chief Knight Kiplinger and Rob Tait, a former ad agency creative director who now pioneers the content strategy of “branded entertainment” in the Canadian market.
While working on a white paper series for McMurry about a year ago, I came across a Toronto-based firm called Fresh Baked Entertainment. Now there’s a clever name and concept, I said to myself, so I bookmarked it, certain it would prove useful in the future. Well, whaddya know, Fresh Baked is Tait’s baby, co-founded with Canadian TV and film veteran Brett Heard, and together they are evangelizing the integration of brand storytelling and entertainment, with episodic web programs as their primary vehicle.
While branded entertainment remains an early-stage concept in Canada, Fresh Baked’s proposal for a comedic online show called The Originals was precisely the out-of-the-box approach that McDonald’s was looking for in support of the launch of its McCafé brand in Canada last November.
Both a product play and an experiential one, McCafé also includes its own defined physical café space within some (not all) McDonald’s restaurants. This brand-within-a brand concept figures prominently in McCafe’s expansion in Canada, where McDonald’s is investing some $1 billion in the country’s biggest ever store-by-store transformation. In late 2010, the company put out an RFP for a unique marketing solution for the McCafé launch—and Fresh Baked won the gig.
“The Originals is based on two guys using McCafé as their ‘creative headquarters’ to brainstorm ideas for a fictional comedy show,” explains Tait. “The idea is to reinforce the message of ‘bringing back the break,’ recasting McDonald’s as a place not for rushing in and out, but as an inviting environment where you can hang out and relax.”
Co-written by Anthony Farrell, whose credentials include multiple episodes of The Office, the nine-episode series debuted in late November 2011 on its own YouTube and Facebook channels as part of a multi-pronged marketing and promotional strategy.
According to Tait, the show has garnered close to 13,800 “Likes” on Facebook and around 430,000 cumulative views to date, while also scoring well above norms in traditional metrics such as sharing, audience retention, and click-throughs.
Yet, while showcasing McCafé products and the physical attributes of the McCafé space, the true marketing value of the project lies in creating a “state of mind” about experiencing McDonald’s and its products. “This is not a campaign in the traditional sense, but a means of recasting the brand in an engaging narrative format, framed in a context resembling everyday life,” explains Tait. “If it were just about the product, the consumer may be less motivated to talk about you, but when the content is entertaining, you create the catalyst and gateway for widespread sharing via the social media universe.”
Will it be Tim Horton’s or McCafé for coffee the next time I’m in Canada? I’m Toronto-bound in early February—stay tuned.
Jeff Heilman covers business, marketing, law and travel for a range of custom and trade publications. Also an award-winning photographer and copywriter, he ghostwrote Courageous Counsel, a book on the history of women general counsel in the Fortune 500, published September 2011.