Q & A

McDonald's Sofia Therios on the National Launch of McCafé Coffee Drinks

By Jenny Berg June 4, 2009, 12:10 PM EDT

To introduce McCafe products to a New York audience, McDonald's set up a temporary lounge at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in February.

Photo: AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams

In May, McDonald's embarked on the nationwide launch of a coffee-centered brand extension called McCafé. With a marketing program rumored to cost about $100 million, the company is promoting its new line of espresso-based drinks through “advertising, promotion, electronic and digital efforts, merchandising in our restaurants, and events,” said to Sofia Therios, director of marketing for McDonald's USA. Amid speculation that the economic climate—in which even Starbucks is losing its footing—makes for risky timing for the McCafé launch, we spoke to Therios about how she is using events and other experiential components to promote new products, how the company is adapting its marketing to different regions, and how successful the launch has been thus far.

Why is now the right time for the McCafé launch?
It always starts with the consumer. If you start with the consumer, and focus on what consumers are looking for, the answer is right there. We have a wonderful business research [and] consumer insight team and we talk to our customers regularly. We also have the benefit of our restaurants, which let us communicate with consumers and understand what they're looking for at the restaurant level on a day to day basis. These are products that our customers want [right now].

Tell us about your involvement with New York Fashion Week in February.
We had a great opportunity to debut our line of espresso-based coffees and actually put them out for knowledgeable consumers to experience in an unexpected and delightful way. There was a temporary lounge set up right in the main area. We had coffee machines going all day long, serving lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, espressos. It was very cozy—it was kind of a nice little McCafé oasis in the middle of the event. It was open to all guests throughout the day, and we were very happy to see people coming back again and again, and bringing their friends, and spreading the word about how great the coffees were.

I think it was a great way of doing this introduction. It certainly created a lot of attention, not just from media, but even just the buzz from the attendees at the event. There was discussion and dialogue and people talking about it and thinking about it and experiencing the product. And our goal is to get the product in the hands and mouths of as many people as possible.
How do you measure the success of the Fashion Week lounge in concrete terms, beyond a sense of buzz?
At the larger level, we measure success at the consumer basis across the restaurants. We gauge where [the McCafé products stand] in trial, and we have concrete measurements in sales. I would say the largest [percentage of] our metrics are behind the national launch, though, not specific to that event.

Are you considering getting involved with Miami's upcoming Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week?
Although we're not providing info on specific plans right now, of course we are looking opportunistically at everything going forward. So we have a number of considerations—including that—that we're evaluating right now.

Apart from the temporary lounges, what other methods are you using to distribute samples?
A lot of our restaurants are doing sampling, so if you go into a restaurant and ask about the product, we're very happy to provide a taste of it. There are also street teams that are going out and handing out McCafé frequency cards. We have a three-part card that you may get at the restaurant or on the street, or at an event. [The card offers] a free taste and then a frequency card. So we're really delivering—either in the restaurants or remotely—the opportunity for people to come into the restaurant and experience the product.

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