How McDonald's got you hashtagging their hacks

Honoring & owning a fan-initiative can get you big numbers

I’m speaking to Dubai next week?! Giving a keynote at the 1 Billion Follower Summit, teaching creators from around the world about niching down. What is life. Make sure to add me on Instagram to watch the conference experience. But hey, let’s kick off 2024 with:

  • McDonald’s Menu Hacks

  • Instagram’s feed rankings explained

  • 3 short essays on social media

How McDonald’s got you hashtagging your hacks

We’ve all got our own McDonald’s order. Me? I’m a 10 piece McNugget + 2 McDoubles kinda guy. Travis Scott? The rapper’s grabbing a Quarter Pounder with bacon, medium fries with BBQ sauce, and a Sprite. His order became the first of McD’s Celebrity Meals campaign, going on to feature J Balvin, Saweetie, BTS, and more as fans hungrily munched whatever their fav artists were eating.

One good campaign often inspires another, leading to McDonald’s Menu Hacks initiative, turning fan-created items into official orders available in-stores. Creator agency Influential was tasked with bringing the moment to TikTok—today, we’ll read about how they used several TikTactics, including:

  • turning a fan trend into something official

  • #mcdonaldshacks, their branded hashtag challenge

  • a branded TikTok effect

Turning a fan-trend into something official

The agency summed it up best in their case study: “Menu hacks was brand-first, inspired by a TikTok trend, and rooted in an audience truth.” That’s the trifecta.

What’s especially brilliant here: the campaign gives a natural consumer behavior an official branded name. Forget whether the creative is good, or the TikTokers are natural, or if anyone uses the Branded Effect—every dollar still goes towards making #McdonaldsHacks a thing, offering a proper hashtag for the content people were already making.

And boy, did it work. TikTokers made 1.82 million videos—not views, but original UGC videos—using the #mcdonaldshacks hashtag, earning 361 million likes, 12 million comments, and 20 million shares. Real McResults.


Trying TikTok famous McDonald’s Hack! #mcdonalds #mcdonaldshacks #mcdonaldssecrets #fries #nuggets #buffalosauce #bbqsauce #sweetandsoursa... See more

The creator content: maybe a little too much?

In the case study on Influential’s site, they share 5 of the hired TikToker’s videos. Each TikTok follows a similar formula:

  1. Creator introduces McDonald’s

  2. Creator uses the Branded Effect

  3. Creator makes the menu hack item

Here’s a screenshot of the Branded Effect—it’s essentially a floating McDonald’s Hack item for you to pretend hold, rotating to the next after you bite it.

I’ll admit, the branded effect loses me. I think the “bite to try the next hack” mechanic is technologically interesting, but I just have a hard time believing any casual scrollers thought it’d be cool to fake eat a McDonald’s burger. That’s not gonna result in cool videos for randos—almost feels like that old iPhone app where you pretend to drink a beer. I could be wrong—their case study says the Branded Effect earned 3.38 million views—but I wonder if they’re counting the paid views from their hired TikTokers.

What does really work here: having the TikTokers make the Menu Hack items. It’s a 1:1 of how a consumer would buy & create the meals, and I’ll bet plenty of those TikTokers’ fans went out to try ‘em. I think the creator content would’ve been more effective with just this portion, but hey, the numbers below speak for themselves.


I love that Influential offered TikTok campaign benchmarks in their Shorty Awards case study. As strategist, we’re always left to wonder how we compare to everyone else (wow, that sounds unhealthy). Menu Hacks hit some big numbers while also meeting or beating paid expectations:

  • 7.8 billion views on Menu Hacks Hashtag Challenge page in 30 days.

  • 1.82 million+ videos created using #mcdonaldshacks or branded effect, generating 361M+ Likes, 12M+ Comments & 20M+ Shares 

  • Effective $0.03-$0.09 cost per visit (QSR benchmark is $0.31)

  • The Hashtag Challenge page #mcdonaldshacks garnered 2.66 billion video views in 3 days (TikTok’s benchmark is 2.19~2.75b.

  • The Branded Effect garnered 3.38M Video Views, meeting TikTok’s benchmark of 2M~13M views over that timeframe.

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Social Cues

There are so many social big thinkers out there, writing all kinds of amazing strategies, analysis, and breakdowns. All ships rise with the tide, so here are a few reads from other places I think you could learn from.

This dropped last year, but it’s good refresher for the new year. Read more official materials from each social network, less TikToks about “how the algorithm changed!!!”

Make 2024 the year you stop checking your ex’s Instagram. A great read on the psychology behind hate following & whether it’s truly bad for you.

Paddy’s a YouTube consultant who’s worked with some of the biggest names in the space. His advice tends to lean creator, but brand folks looking to understand the Tube should give this a read.