Travis Scott and McDonald’s have recently come into an unlikely partnership. Rolling into the McDonald’s drive-thru, I expected a line wrapping around the corner and causing traffic in Newark from all of the hype that I heard about the collaboration. Instead, I rolled right up to the speaker and ordered a Travis Scott Meal. Allegedly Scott’s go-to order, I was handed a quarter pounder with cheese with bacon and chopped lettuce, medium fries with tangy BBQ sauce and a Sprite.
The sandwich was fine. Attaching the name Travis Scott was great marketing for McDonald’s, but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a burger from McDonald’s. It’s still a thin slab of processed beef on the most basic sesame bun. Topping the burger with a strip of bacon was an improvement, adding some flavor and crispness to the otherwise banal entree, but just about any other fast food establishment makes a better burger than the Golden Arches.
The fries in tangy BBQ sauce is better than their fries with ketchup, but that’s like saying that I would rather lose my left leg over my right leg. McDonald’s has the most basic fries in the game, and I firmly believe that their fries being perceived as good is a social construct that we have been conditioned to believe. They’re too thin, they’re dry and the salting is inconsistent. I’ve had fries that were barely salted and fries that tasted like getting hit in the face by a wave in the ocean. At least the salt wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the clowns at McDonald’s would add any sort of other spice or seasoning to their fries.
McDonald’s claims that the Sprite with extra ice is a Travis Scott favorite. I claim that McDonald’s is advertising extra ice to sell less soda and make more money off of this deal. Nevertheless, the ice helped to make the Sprite less sweet and tasted more like a refreshing lemonade which made it easier to drink when trying to wash down my dry fries.
Overall, McDonald’s selected some of the worst parts of their menu—I give them credit for their chicken sandwiches and the best cheap coffee you can get—for the meal and I was completely unimpressed. The collaboration tried to go for Sicko Mode, but just made me sick.
While writing and researching about the Travis Scott Meal, I stopped by Dunkin’ to get a coffee and a croissant. While waiting on the line to order, I saw a girl on one of the screens advertising an iced coffee called The Charli. I later learned this was TikTok dancer/influencer Charli D’Amelio, a 16 year old with over 80 million followers on the platform.
After getting over the fact that a 16 year old has a go-to coffee order, I tried the drink: a Dunkin’ Cold Brew with whole milk and three pumps of caramel swirl. As a loyal customer and a former employee of the brand, the Charli isn’t anything new to the store. Although I worked there before the cold brew was rolled out to stores, iced coffee has always been one of the most popular drinks, caramel is one of the flavors that’s on the menu year-round and from my experience is the most popular flavor, and milk is a pretty standard addition to the drinks. However, unlike with Travis Scott’s alleged preferences being released in an official statement from McDonald’s, Charli has been loyally documenting herself drinking the drink without any incentive from Dunkin’ to her followers on TikTok.
The drink was great, but maybe a little bit too sweet for my taste. Pairing it with a more savory option—like a bacon, egg and cheese croissant—makes a well-balanced flavor combination.
Celebrities being featured on menus isn’t an unheard of fad. In 1992, the Travis Scott Meal was called the McJordan Special after NBA legend Michael Jordan. More recently, Shaquille O’Neal released the Shaq-a-Roni pizza at Papa John’s Pizza, a chain which lists him as an investor and a member of the Board of Directors. Many smaller brands and local favorites name menu items after famous patrons. Partnerships between celebrities and restaurants are also not news, with celebrity endorsements of popular brands being almost as old as celebrities themselves.
What makes the Travis Scott Meal and the Charli Drink different is the scale and the methods. Travis Scott is not just telling people to eat at McDonald’s—he is “collaborating” with them. Scott released dozens of merchandise items from t-shirts with Cactus Jack and McDonald’s references on them to a chicken nugget body pillow. In the typical Travis Scott fashion, all of the merchandise is sold out and being resold online (the Nugget Body Pillow sold for a retail of $90 and is trading at $450 on StockX).
Meanwhile with the Charli drink, Dunkin’ is making themselves relevant among a younger demographic—something that seemed unlikely a few years ago when Starbucks was objectively the more vibrant and youthful coffee shop of choice. Along with adding oat milk and a Beyond Sausage sandwich to the menu for those of us who have opened up to plant-based diets, Dunkin’ is speaking directly to a younger generation through advertisements on the platform that many young people are using and through a 16 year old that millions of young people are influenced by.
Our fascination with celebrity is merging more and more with our obsession with technology and social media, and having your smartphone on you at all times and social media apps always running is allowing companies to penetrate your psyche with advertisements like never before. Whether good or bad, influencers are growing in popularity and becoming more commercialized, so expect to see more of them on the menu.