Until this week, I had never heard of Saweetie. But last night, I ended up having dinner with her.
Let me clarify: Saweetie — aka California-born rap star Diamonté Quiava Valentin Harper — wasn’t in actual attendance. Rather, I was at my local McDonald’s
and ordered the newly introduced Saweetie Meal, a combo that comes with a Big Mac, four-piece Chicken McNuggets, fries and a drink (I skipped the suggested Sprite and went with a Diet Coke just to keep things in caloric check). Oh, and don’t forget the “Saweetie ‘N Sour” sauce that rounds out the spread.
Such meals have become par for the course at the Golden Arches — and apparently have proved quite successful. Last year, when McDonald’s rolled out a combo tied to rapper Travis Scott, highlighted by a Quarter Pounder with cheese, it became such a sensation that the company ran into supply issues with the signature sandwich.
The Saweetie Meal is a combo that comes with a Big Mac, four-piece Chicken McNuggets, fries and a drink.
Of course, there’s nothing new about consumer brands trying to sell their stuff via a celebrity connection. Chesterfield cigarettes tapped New York Yankee great Joe DiMaggio as its pitchman. Pepsi
had Michael Jackson singing about the Pepsi generation.
Fast-food chains have long been part of this playbook as well. Moreover, McDonald’s created a powerful packaging model with its Happy Meal, the classic kiddie combo of food and a toy. (And sure enough, the toy element has tapped into pop culture as well, with toy tie-ins with movies and television.)
I’d suggest that the celebrity meals are basically just a Happy Meal, sans toy, for a slightly older demographic (in other words, people who are Saweetie’s target audience). Indeed, Wells Fargo has said that’s the case, noting that the Travis Scott promotion connected McDonald’s “with an audience that’s been a weak spot over the past 20 years,” as in consumers in the early teen-to-mid 20s age bracket.
But I’d also suggest, more than a little cynically, that these meals are just a way for McDonald’s to repackage its existing menu items and lure consumers into buying more fast food than they might normally order.
Certainly, I can’t think of a time I went into Mickey D’s and said I’ll have a Big Mac and some McNuggets — generally, that’s an either/or proposition, but the Saweetie Meal delivers both (with those fries as well).
But my cynicism doesn’t end there when it comes to this latest celebrity offering.
Another part of the Saweetie Meal’s promise is that you can “remix it like Saweetie,” meaning you can follow the pop star’s path of putting fries in your sandwich or ditching the burgers in the Big Mac and replacing them with McNuggets. (Wouldn’t that be called a Big McNugget?)
I tried that and a few other remixes last night. Memo to the McDonald’s team: IT DOESN’T WORK. Once you play with the architecture of a Big Mac, it becomes a Big Mess, with sauce, buns and veggies scattering to the four winds, making any kind of reassembly impossible.
As for that “Saweetie ‘N Sour Sauce,” let’s just say I’ve had it a million times already. Perfectly tasty and tangy, but hardly a revelation. It’s basically the sweet-and-sour sauce you can find in any Chinese-American restaurant.
I suspect McDonald’s knows all this already. (And the company didn’t respond for immediate comment when I reached out to it.) These celebrity offerings are more marketing ploys than menu reinventions.
As for that “Saweetie ‘N Sour Sauce,” let’s just say I’ve had it a million times already. Perfectly tasty and tangy, but hardly a revelation.
A previous meal, built around the South Korean pop group BTS, featured a 10-piece McNuggets with two new sauces, including a sweet chili one. In short, it was just another way to sell the same chicken item McDonald’s has sold for decades.
Instead of playing the celebrity game, I’d rather see McDonald’s put more effort into developing new products. Granted, it introduced a spicy version of the McNuggets last year, but I haven’t seen much else of note from the venerable fast-food chain. And for the record: I’m still holding out for that great and glorious day when McDonald’s will finally offer its version of onion rings, so I don’t have to travel to Australia for them.
Perhaps McDonald’s doesn’t need the boost: The company reported strong earnings of late, in part because of the BTS promotion. And at the risk of stating the obvious, I’m clearly not the market that McDonald’s is targeting with these pop-star promotions. My go-to order at the chain is a Filet-O-Fish sandwich, accompanied by a cup of coffee (yes, I have become my grandmother).
Still, my cynicism may speak to the fact that even in an era when food and drink and celebrity culture are inextricably tied — look at Snoop Dogg and his culinary adventures with Martha Stewart or his new rose wine, for that matter — I can’t help but think maybe restaurant chains should stick to what they know best.
And perhaps the same goes for those celebrities. Next time I want to connect with Saweetie, I’ll just listen to her music. At least I now know her name.