The Big Mac of food currencies

To celebrate its 50th birthday, McDonald's has released six million coins diners can redeem for the iconic burger.

big mac

The Rubik’s cube, the Blarney stone, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Big Mac. These are all cultural icons native to a specific country and enjoyed by the world, but only one of them is celebrating a milestone birthday and doing it through a “food-backed global currency.”

McDonald’s iconic sandwich, which has graced the QSR’s menu for the last 50 years, is being celebrated in 2018 with the launch of the MacCoin. The actual, physical coin can be used to redeem one of the franchise’s iconic burgers and are being distributed in the mail through a social and radio contest.

Globally, more than three million people walk through McDonald’s doors each day, so word about the coins should spread organically without the use of traditional marketing, Adam Grachnik, external communications manager for the brand tells strategy. The hope is that the 50,000 coins up for grabs in Canada, and another 6,150,000 in 49 more countries around the globe, will begin to circulate quickly and be seen as one of the QSR’s biggest global PR activations to date, adds Grachnik.

The program was partially inspired by “The Big Mac Index,” a semi-humourous way business magazine The Economist has used to illustrate the differences in purchasing power between two currencies by examining the price of a Big Mac in each country. The idea for the MacCoin came from the brand’s U.S. PR agency Golin, and created by TBWA with minting by Osborne Coinage. In Canada, McDonald’s worked alongside Weber Shandwick, with media support from OMD.

In total, there are five designs for the coins, each referencing one of the five decades and giving a nod to the art, music and pop culture references of that era. The coins also happen to go into circulation three days before what would have been the 100th birthday of the inventor of the Big Mac, a meal that originally sold for $0.45. The item is a staple on the McDs menu and has been the main driver for the restaurant’s global success. In Canada alone, sales for the burger, over the last few years specifically, has “gone up a number of percentage points each year,” says Grachnik.

Each country, he says, is distributing the coins in their own way. The U.S., for example, is using the swap tactic of buy one Big Mac, get one coin free. Canada, on the other hand, is dishing out coins for engaging on social media and entering contests through several radio stations. They then have the option to redeem the coin to feed their hunger, or collect it as a keepsake.

“We’ve noticed that in a lot of the different McDonald’s promotions we’ve done over the last few years, there’s a certain passion and love for McDs swag,” says Grachnik, adding that Canadians can win a coin on social simply by tweeting why they love the burger through #BigMac50.


The anniversary celebration first kicked off, albeit in a less overt way, earlier this year with the quirky Big Mac X Bacon campaign that put the burger on display, alongside models and fashionistas in art-house style creative. “This is really the main amplification of that,” says Grachnik of the new contest and currency that is redeemable until the end of 2018. “For us, it’s about continuing that celebration, and hopefully get sales, but more for the anniversary.”

“For Canada, we’re really playing into the celebration and the love of the items and we think that a lot of people have enjoyed the Big Mac and this is just an added incentive for them.”