NEW YORK — McDonald’s has launched a new “global currency” that will entitle holders to a free Big Mac. The MacCoin, which is really a fancy coupon, is pegged to the celebration of the sandwich’s 50th birthday.
Starting on Thursday, Aug. 2, which would have been the 100th birthday of the Big Mac’s creator, customers will be able get a MacCoin at a participating McDonald’s in more than 50 countries. It isn’t exactly free money, however — you have to buy a Big Mac to receive a coin.
Starting the next day, the coins can be redeemed for a free Big Mac through the end of the year.
“When my great-grandfather Jim Delligatti invented the Big Mac at his grill in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, he just wanted to make his local customers happy,” said Nick Delligatti, fourth-generation McDonald’s owner-operator and great-grandson of Big Mac inventor Jim Delligatti, in a news release. “August 2 would have been his 100th birthday, and I believe he would be very proud knowing his humble sandwich has made such a lasting impression that people all around the world can enjoy it wherever they find a McDonald’s.”
Delligatti died in 2016 at age 98. His famed creation even has its own museum, The Big Mac Museum, which doubles as a McDonald’s restaurant that’s run by the Delligatti family, about 40 miles from the Uniontown location where the sandwich was created. The museum, in North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, features a 14-foot-tall Big Mac sculpture as well as memorabilia charting the evolution of the sandwich.
McDonald’s plans to distribute more than 6.2 million MacCoins.
The coins will feature five different designs charting the decades since the Big Mac’s launch:
- The ‘70s, showcasing the decade’s flower power
- The ‘80s alluding to pop art
- The ‘90s defined with bold, abstract shapes
- The early ‘00s specifically focusing on the technology that was at the forefront of the turn of the century
- The ‘10s MacCoin calling attention to the evolution of communication.
The campaign comes as McDonald’s fights to hold onto customers while holding true to its iconic Big Mac.
The company is celebrating the 1968 national launch of the double-decker sandwich whose ingredients of “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and a sesame seed bun” were seared into American memories by a TV jingle. But the milestone comes as the company reduces its number of U.S. stores. McDonald’s said Thursday that customers are visiting less often. Other more trendy burger options are reaching into the heartland.
The “Golden Arches” still have a massive global reach, and the McDonald’s brand of cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets and french fries remains recognizable around the world. But on its critical home turf, the company is toiling to stay relevant. Kale now appears in salads, fresh has replaced frozen beef patties in Quarter Pounders, and some stores now offer ordering kiosks, food delivery and barista-style cafes.
The Big Mac remains unchanged, showing just how much McDonald’s and the rest of fast-food have evolved.
“Clearly, we’ve gotten a little more sophisticated in our menu development,” McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook said in a phone interview.
As with many of its popular and long-lasting menu items, the idea for the Big Mac came from a franchisee.
In 1967, Delligatti, the father of the Big Mac, lobbied the company to let him test the burger at his Pittsburgh restaurants. Later, he acknowledged the Big Mac’s similarity to a popular sandwich sold by the Big Boy chain.
“This wasn’t like discovering the light bulb. The bulb was already there. All I did was screw it in the socket,” Delligatti said, according to “Behind the Arches.”
McDonald’s agreed to let Delligatti sell the sandwich at a single location, on the condition that he use the company’s standard bun. It didn’t work. Delligatti tried a bigger sesame seed bun, and the burger soon lifted sales by more than 12 percent.
After similar results at more stores, the Big Mac was added to the national menu in 1968. Other ideas from franchisees that hit the big time include the Filet-O-Fish, Egg McMuffin, Apple Pie (once deep-fried but now baked), and the Shamrock Shake.
“The company has benefited from the ingenuity of its small business men,” wrote Ray Kroc, who transformed the McDonald’s into a global franchise, in his book, “Grinding It Out.”
Franchisees still play an important role, driving the recent switch to fresh from frozen for the beef in Quarter Pounders, Easterbrook says. They also participate in menu development, which in the U.S. has included a series of cooking tweaks intended to improve taste.
Messing with a signature menu item can be taboo, but keeping the Big Mac unchanged comes with its own risks. Newer chains such as Shake Shack and Five Guys offer burgers that can make the Big Mac seem outdated. Even White Castle is modernizing, recently adding plant-based “Impossible Burger” sliders at some locations.
A McDonald’s franchisee fretted in 2016 that only one out of five millennials has tried the Big Mac. The Big Mac had “gotten less relevant,” the franchisee wrote in a memo, according to the Wall Street Journal.
McDonald’s then ran promotions designed to introduce the Big Mac to more people. Those kind of periodic campaigns should help keep the Big Mac relevant for years to come, says Mike Delligatti, the son of the Big Mac inventor, who died last year.
“What iconic sandwich do you know that can beat the Big Mac as far as longevity?” said Delligatti, himself a McDonald’s franchisee.