When a set of plastic figurines, each with four eyes, is being offered for resale on eBay for $300,000, you know you’re onto something.
That’s just what happened last week when a seller posted three of four collectible Cactus Plant Flea Market figures — in their original packaging — on the auction site for that eye-popping sum.
The frenzy around the products created for McDonald’s as a promotion for its adult Happy Meals is unprecedented. When the fast-food giant collaborated with the buzzy streetwear brand to recreate three toys — the Hamburglar, Grimace, Birdie — and design another, the Cactus Buddy, all with its trademark four eyes, the response was immediate and viral.
The limited-edition collectibles launched at McDonald’s on Oct. 3 and offered either a Big Mac or 10-piece chicken McNuggets, fries and a drink in the trademark Happy Meals cardboard box with Golden Arches handles, emblazoned with the colorful characters on the outside and one of the four toys inside.
The launch drew long lines to restaurants around the country and sold out in many locations the day they were introduced. The drop also led some McDonald’s employees to vent on social media about how overwhelmed they were with the reaction from customers.
It didn’t take long for the toys to become stars on social media and start showing up on resale sites for fans who were unable to snag any on their own.
Although the $300,000 price tag on eBay got the most press, other sites such as Grailed were offering the toys at much lower prices — but they were still hot items.
As part of the promotion, Cactus Plant Flea Market also created a line of apparel including sweatshirts, T-shirts and sweatpants that retailed for $60 to $150 — while supplies lasted. And those supplies didn’t last very long. Already, the entire assortment is sold out.
Elizabeth Campbell, senior director of cultural engagement for McDonald’s, said the popularity of the Cactus Plant Flea Market collaboration speaks to the nostalgia felt by its adult customers. “We wanted to partner with someone who could create an adult meal,” she said. The result was a box that brought together the brand’s “iconic food” in a way that could “make them feel good. It’s a big hit with our Gen Z and older customers.”
Campbell said the customers are “really enjoying this brand experience moment around the box with its collectible inside and the story told on the box,” she added.
Although this is the first time McDonald’s has created an adult Happy Meal, it is not the first collaboration it has done with fashion brands or celebrities.
In January, it tapped Opening Ceremony cofounder Humberto Leon to create a special collection of zodiac signs and apparel for Lunar New Year.
In September of 2020, McDonald’s partnered with Travis Scott on a special meal that included his favorite items — a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and bacon, fries with barbecue sauce and a Sprite — as well as a line of co-branded McDonald’s and Cactus Jack apparel, which is a line named in honor of his record label.
The company launched other editions of this promotion with J Blavin, BTS and Saweetie, and last December offered the Mariah Menu from Mariah Carey for the holiday season that included T-shirts and beanies.
In February of this year, McDonald’s worked with Bubba Wallace, the NASCAR driver it sponsors, on a co-branded, limited-edition raceway apparel collection, 23XI, with the proceeds benefiting the encouragement of diversity and equity in motorsports.
In September, Joseph Altuzarra was selected to design a holiday lantern for the Mid-Autumn Festival, which celebrates Asian culture.
And as part of its longtime sponsorship with the All American Games, McDonald’s has worked for the past two years with Adidas and Eric Emanuel, a New York-based streetwear designer known for his basketball shorts, to design a line of apparel and accessories for both the participating athletes and their fans.
When selecting who to work with on these types of products, Campbell said McDonald’s looks at “fashion and collaborations that allow us to express the brand.”
Each one has “a flavor of their own,” which appeal to a variety of customers, and many, such as the ones with Travis Scott and Mariah Carey, were very successful and “drive high volume” for the company.
McDonald’s ad agency, Wieden+Kennedy, along with internal employees who “understand the street,” have been instrumental in identifying the brands or celebrities to work with, Campbell said.
The number-one goal, she added, is to offer product that is accessible and appealing to the McDonald’s customer. And although she would not provide sales figures, she said it definitely moves the needle for the company by engaging customers and helping the company “stay front and center in culture.”
As the Cactus Plant Flea Market promo ends, McDonald’s is on to its next project. This one, tied into Halloween, marks the return of its popular Boo Buckets Happy Meals — this one targeted to kids. The buckets that were introduced back in 1986 can double as a pail to hold candy on Halloween night — once the hamburger, McNuggets, fries and apple slices are gone. Although the promotion is creating buzz among customers, this one doesn’t feature a fashion tie-in.
So how often will McDonald’s work with fashion brands in the future? Campbell said there’s no set time frame, but instead, “We will listen to our fans on how often to do it.”
She also wouldn’t offer a hint on which brands might be next, saying only: “We’re always trying to cook up something.”