McDonald’s latest restaurant concept goes after the Gen Z market with a calculated marketing trifecta of nostalgia, convenience and bespoke products. CosMc’s is a new addition to the “McDonald’s Universe”, inspired by a retro TV character that will allow customers to customise beverages in the seamless drive-thru experience they are accustomed to. The first CosMc’s outpost opened in Bolingbrook, Illinois, in early December as a pilot before McDonald’s begins expanding the spi
he spin-off franchise. “At CosMc’s, you’ll find exactly what you need to take you to your happy place. And you’ll feel rejuvenated by more than just a drink. We know that everyday life can weigh us down. So we’re on a mission to lift humans up with every sip,” the website states. The rise of nostalgic branding The rise of nostalgia-based marketing strategies has taken the retail industry by storm as brands have realised it is a powerful emotional driver for consumers. Gen Z may be the biggest proponent of nostalgia-inspired goods and services as they continuously lean into trends in music, fashion and attitudes from decades before their time. The branding power of nostalgia is no longer a secret weapon, with companies such as Mattel, Coke and Disney embracing the strategy. Heritage and legacy brands, including McDonald’s, are leaning into nostalgia to stay culturally relevant and CosMc’s is just the latest example of this. “McDonald’s is a good [brand] to look at because there is a DNA that runs through there but it’s not really cookie-cutter and it’s very much based on the golden arches and the signage more than the architecture,” Gary McCartney, founder and creative director of McCartney Designs, told Inside Retail. “They have kept some of that McDonald’s DNA in there and when you look at the sign you can see that sort-of stylised half an ‘M’ on it’s side.” CosMc’s is based on a McDonald’s alien mascot from the 80s which the brand has brought back to ground the new drive-thru restaurant following the success of its nostalgia-based campaigns with the character Grimace earlier this year. Nostalgic branding has often been deemed as the equivalent of comfort food, which CosMc’s is also offering. CosMc’s is looking to capture the nostalgic generation’s attention with its branding concept and is anticipating they will eat it up. The demand for express coffee The retro-futuristic branding expands into CosMc’s “Brew” menu with both traditional hot-coffee options and adventurous iced-coffee options for consumers to taste test. The National Coffee Association (NCA) reported that coffee is the most commonly consumed beverage in the United States, even more than tap water. The value of the coffee shop market exceeded US$45.8 billion, according to Statistica. Since the pandemic broke out in 2020, the takeaway coffee industry has been moving into the fast lane with drive-thru coffee shops. McDonald’s is planning on expanding its portfolio of drive-thru locations with CosMc’s to meet current and anticipated future demand. “Just like the original McDonaldland character, CosMc’s blazes its own path with a uniquely seamless digital and Drive Thru experience,” stated McDonald’s. “Guests are invited to take a break from earthly stressors and use the dynamic menu boards and cashless payment devices to breeze through the ordering and payment process, allowing for guided exploration and customization along the way.” The expectation of bespoke menus CosMc’s customisable beverage-led menu is the primary differentiation from McDonald’s regular soda and McCafe offering. McDonald’s built its brand off menu standardisation – no matter what location you visit, your Big Mac and fries will both taste and cost the same. But with the option of personalisation becoming the new industry standard, especially in the coffee industry, McDonald’s is attempting to pivot with its CosMc’s pilot. “I look at the way McDonald’s are using it as more of a fantasy thing, I think what they are trying to do is bring brighter moments into people’s days,” said McCartney. CosMc’s is focussed on what the company has referred to as “beverage exploration”, allowing customers to customise their drinks with popping boba, flavour syrups, energy or Vitamin C shots and much more. “They’re doing it through their branding but they are also doing it through the choice of what they are serving, a lot of the drink items they have are pure fantasy; they’re brightly coloured, they’re sweet, they have different unusual flavours and textures,” McCartney added. The opening of CosMc’s marks the start of McDonald’s exploration into the specialty drink market, where Starbucks has previously held the majority market share. The CosMc trifecta While McDonald’s use of nostalgic branding, fast service and customisable menu items is not unique, the reach and size of the brand put the company in an advantageous position to scale quickly and capture the Gen Z market. After the opening of the Bolingbrook CosMc’s pilot in Illinois, McDonald’s is planning to roll out 10 more locations by the end of 2024 primarily in the Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio metro areas. “But what they basically serve up is something that is known, dependable, family-based and their brand encapsulates all of that – you know what you’re going to get there. I think that’s been the secret of [McDonald’s] success, it’s predictable,” McCartney concluded. The marketing blueprint adopted by McDonald’s for the launch of CosMc’s could very well be utilised by other fast-food chains to target the Gen Z consumer demographic.