McDonald’s: Launching McCafé To Market

The Challenge

In a bid to accelerate transformative growth for McDonald’s, we’ve helped to successfully extend the business into new categories.

Our first step on this journey was to create an occasion-based segmentation, identifying new and unmet customer occasions. This analysis allowed us to identify two new occasions that the brand was yet to service: ‘coffee on the go’ and ‘home delivery’.

Our research revealed that the Masterbrand was not best placed to win in these occasions. So, we developed a portfolio strategy including a new sub-brand – McCafé – designed to meet the unique demands of the category while remaining true to, and continuing to service, the Masterbrand.

In 2017, we launched a bold new strategy for the McCafé brand, setting it on a trajectory of growth that continues to this day. Since launch, McCafé’s positioning has evolved to cement the brand’s status as an affordable alternative to overpriced coffee.

People loved McDonald’s for its ease and simplicity, but this seemed at odds with the culture of coffee: which was about craft, quality, and trendy baristas. As a result, despite the quality of our coffee being on par with many specialist outlets, 55% of people still believed that ‘McDonald’s is not a serious coffee provider’.

The Solution

We saw an opportunity to turn the perceived deficiencies of the McDonald’s brand within the coffee category – e.g. simple, uncomplicated and value focused – into strengths that could be celebrated and give us a true competitive advantage. The strategy was to reframe our coffee offer as the antidote to the absurdities of coffee culture, which was encapsulated in a new McCafé positioning: great tasting coffee, made simple.

Our 2017 launch campaign ‘Madness’, poked fun at the hipster coffee trend sweeping the nation. Shining a light on the complex menus, the expensive price tags, and the unnecessarily extravagant way in which coffee is often served.

The addition of the Flat White to the McCafé menu in 2018 was an opportunity to demystify and democratise the Flat White for the masses; it’s just a stronger latte, with less milk!

The early stages of 2020 saw the platform begin to shift towards price. In typical McCafé style, the ‘ball pit’ campaign used humour to accentuate the nonsensical and superfluous nature of expensive coffee shops. From ‘free’ massages, to bike fixing stations, to adult ball pits and multiple varieties of milk that you don’t want; the campaign aimed to shine a light on all of the tactics employed by overly expensive coffee houses to lull you into paying through the nose whilst on autopilot each morning.

As the pandemic brought the nation to a standstill 2020, we built on our now reputable platform by shifting our emphasis from independent coffee shops to high street chains; navigating the pandemic and positioning McCafé as a reliable and affordable coffee solution, even with ordering-channel restrictions. The simplicity in 2020 was the market-leading price point of 99p. Despite many high street competitors closing, McCafé offered affordable coffee at scale through various ordering channels. Several tactical opportunities to establish the brand as a better value alternative to Costa (who even reduced their cup size!) were a huge success, the brand also offered free coffee to frontline healthcare workers at the height of the pandemic.

The latest McCafé work in 2021 made a further shift towards making the daily coffee choice as simple as possible for customers; the campaign using hyperbole to dramatise the expense of a typical high street coffee, positioning the brand as an affordable alternative – a very similar product, just much cheaper. Simple.


The highly awarded launch campaign drove an increase of 53% in propensity to trial, taking McDonald’s share to its highest ever position and the second largest coffee retailer in the UK.

We achieved 11% growth in the first two years ahead of total business.

It also drove a positive impact on perceptions of the overall McDonald’s brand, too: improving brand metrics by 10%.

Q4 2020 was McCafé’s most successful quarter ever, and the gap between McCafé and Costa continued to grow smaller YOY.





Leo Burnett
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Leo Burnett

Leo Burnett brings the power of populist creativity to its clients in order to drive brand growth. Leo himself once said, "At the end of the day, we are just people talking to people". The ability to speak to large numbers of people and move large numbers of people to act, has never been more important. We understand the art and science that goes into creating populist advertising that appeals to the mainstream.

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