Scott Paton

McDonald's CD Premium campaign

McDonald's - January 17, 2012

In 1993, the Music Business was a thriving, robust industry. The term "illegal download" meant stealing something off the back of a freight truck. Burgeoning technology, file sharing on the Internet and record companies' failure to adapt hadn't yet collided to forever alter the way we purchase and listen to music. At this time, many of the major labels had Premium Divisions. These were typically run by a marketing & sales individual who would sell the concept of custom CDs or cassettes as purchase-incentive giveaways to major corporations like Nabisco, Cadillac or General Mills. You know, send in five box tops plus $3.00 for shipping and handling and you'll receive this groovy, exclusive collection of ten smash hits.

Well, Capitol-EMI, home of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, the Beatles and others, seemed to be lagging behind some of the other labels in this realm, so I pitched an idea. Create custom compilations that would be sold at a fast-food chain if you purchased a Big Mac or a Whopper, etc. I suggested four discs be made available in the initial campaign-- one pop, one rock, one R&B and one country. Specifically, I suggested the Beach Boys, Bob Seger, Tina Turner and Garth Brooks as they were all Capitol artists. As some acts (especially Seger) might resist having their music compiled for a premium, I suggested including a charitable component in the campaign, thus making McDonald's the ideal partner due to the high visibility of their Ronald McDonald's Childrens' Houses around the country.

As traditional music retailers always protested when record labels issued exclusive products through non-traditional or singular outlets, I strongly recommended that Capitol not include a developing recording artist in the campaign as there would be a backlash from retail. It was really best to go with material that retailers already had in their racks, albeit in different configurations.

From here the story takes many interesting twists and turns, and I'll gladly share that tale with you should you ask. But the following year (1994), the McDonald's/Capitol premium CD campaign was launched with a :30 second TV spot featuring Garth Brooks. In addition to his mini-hits collection, the other discs featured Tina Turner, Elton John (cross-licensed from Polygram and in lieu of a Capitol-EMI artist), and the Swedish pop group Roxette, who'd already had a couple of big hits and were on the way to major stardom here in the States.

This promotion went through the roof, becoming the most successful such campaign to-date. Over 10-million discs were sold, grossing $60 million, $10 million of which went free and clear to Ronald McDonald House. And the nationwide chain of Micky D's restaurants' walk-in trade spiked dramatically during the month-long promotion. Sadly for Roxette, Capitol had decided to feature ten new tracks on the premium disc as a truncated preview of their forthcoming album, and retail banned it upon release. Very unfortunate.

So, you might wonder: How did I celebrate this incredible success? Did I pay off my house? Buy a Porsche? Vacation in Europe for a year? Again, ask and I will tell. But I will say here that I remain very proud of that promotional campaign, and I was thrilled for all the good it did for the wonderful Ronald McDonald House program.

McDonald's/Garth Brooks video