McDonald's McCafe cupsLeave the Facebook Deals and sponsored Twitter trends to the other
brands. McDonald’s is using a location-based, social media scavenger
hunt to promote its new coffee drink, but the company is using free
content – not buying any of the new ad units – as part of the campaign.

McDonald’s is launching Caramel Mocha, a new flavor in its McCafe line of espresso drinks, by hiding three giant McCafe coffee cups in nine target cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Haven, Conn., Salt Lake City, Tampa Bay, Fla., and Washington.

The company will use its local and national Twitter accounts and Facebook pages to give fans clues about where the cups are hidden. The first user to find a cup will receive a year’s worth of free McCafe beverages; 100 runners up will get coupons for a free beverage each.

Why scavenger hunts?

Social media-driven scavenger hunts for various products have worked on the regional and local levels for McDonald’s, according to Jessica Rau, a marketing program manager at the fast-food giant. 

“There were quite a few local markets, like Cincinnati, who have done
the scavenger hunt idea, and they were extremely successful,”
she told Ad Age. 

So the company has decided to scale it out nationally.

But where’s the media spend?

What’s interesting is that McDonald’s hasn’t chosen to spend money on
specific ad units for the campaign. Instead, the company will use its existing Twitter and Facebook pages – the free content that both Twitter and Facebook offer – to drum up buzz. 

Call it location-based, call it
hyper-local, call it geotargeted, but this Caramel Mocha McCafe launch
could have been the perfect fit for a Facebook Deal, a Promoted Trend on Twitter, or even sponsored tweets tied to a specific

McDonald’s has tried location-based promotions before, including participation in Foursquare Day (which celebrated the global usage of Foursquare with discounts from various companies), as well as an app that was tied to user check-ins to Facebook Places. But it seems that the company hasn’t actually invested in any of the location-based ad units or coupons.

This highlights one of the major challenges that both Twitter and Facebook face in terms of monetization: How can they attract advertiser budgets that are directly proportionate to the value that their platforms are currently providing for free?