5 things McDonald’s MONOPOLY does VERY well (+ 3 it doesn’t)

/ 11 March 2020

The premise is simple: McDonald’s customers collect tokens from food and drinks packaging. Each item included in the game comes with two or three tokens or ‘labels’, which can be collected on a free paper MONOPOLY board picked-up in store or online via the game’s website. 

Collecting a complete set of locations of a particular colour wins that prize, but there are also instant win tokens in play (usually food items) that provide instant gratification. 

The game gives customers the opportunity to win a wide range of prizes, from free food to £100,000 in cash and this year, for the first time, a ‘Gold Card’. It has proven to be hugely successful in improving footfall to McDonald’s restaurants, increasing spend per head and collecting valuable data for marketing purposes. 

Here we look at 5 things McDonald’s MONOPOLY does VERY well, and the 3 things it doesn’t. As you might have gathered, it does far more things well than not, but it would be foolish to ignore even the smallest opportunities for improvement.

+1 You can’t lose

McDonalds MONOPOLY provides multiple ways of winning. There is the allure of large prizes but also plenty of ‘instant wins’ to keep customers satisfied and engaged. Many of the low cost prizes can be claimed in store, which starts the process all over again. 

Even ‘losing’ tokens offer a route to success. Last year for example, ten losing tokens could be swapped for a Sky NowTV 30 day pass. Not only are people motivated to play the main game, but have a secondary quest that motivates players to come back time and again, in what is essentially a clever loyalty scheme. 

The game incentivises repeat customers in a variety of ways: ‘Instant Win’, ‘Collect to Win’ and ‘Win Cash’. Not only can players win big and redeem smaller prizes instantly, but even when they don’t win, they never really lose. ‘Favourable behaviour’ is continuously rewarded and every purchase counts.  

-1 “But can you really win anything but food?”

Yes, you can but many aren’t convinced. In responding to such skepticism a McDonald’s spokesperson said, “It is nonsense to suggest that only food prizes are won in our popular McDonald’s Monopoly. Over the past 14 years, millions of non-food prizes have been won, such as houses, cars and holidays, including last year, where 12 million prizes were claimed and three lucky winners won £100,000.”

However, the fact that skepticism remains suggests there is still work to be done in reassuring players that the big prizes are genuinely within reach.  One tactic McDonald’s now uses is to encourage winners to share their big wins on social media by awarding more experiences worth documenting and sharing (rather than just dishing out cash and physical prizes).  

Proving prizes are attainable is a challenge for any sweepstake game, but there are ways of reassuring gamers that they really can win big.  Our brains are not great at distinguishing between big small percentages – for example, we may not be able to conceptually understand the difference between one in a million and one in ten million – but we can relate to stories of ‘average’ people winning big. If it can happen to them, why not me?     

+2 Choice Perception

Another approach has been to increase the perceived value of smaller items through ‘choice perception’, which is an important part of game mechanics. As humans, we don’t like admitting it when we make bad choices (but we don’t mind criticising the decisions of others quite so much), and this makes us more defensive of the things we chose. McDonald’s MONOPOLY introduced ‘Prize Choice’ in 2016, enabling winners to choose their reward – the idea being that if you choose your own prize, you’re far more likely to be satisfied with it!

We have empirical evidence to support this. In the past we’ve run campaigns with household name retailers where consumers have been able to win a 10% discount if they spent £25. We then offered consumers a choice of product category to redeem the reward against. Benchmarking two campaigns where the same reward was used (with and without a choice) showed an uplift in terms of people redeeming vouchers of 33% when choice was given.

+3 Genuine data value exchange 

McDonald’s MONOPOLY is easy to pick-up and play. It’s a simple game and the onboarding process is frictionless. That’s important as it’s imperative people see the benefit and potential of such games early on. 

That’s not to say McDonald’s MONOPOLY doesn’t ask for customer data, it does. But it does it at the right time and while offering genuine value exchange. For example; some tokens are redeemable via the digital portal which, rather than asking for extensive personal data upfront, asks only for the token’s code and an email address. From there, previous years winners have been incentivised to opt-in to receiving future communication in exchange for being entered into a prize draw to win £2,500. That’s a hard offer to turn down!

If the game asked for all data up front, it could prevent customers from playing at all. If it asked for lots of data to claim a prize, today’s savvy consumers may very well feel like they haven’t really ‘won’ anything (knowing the value of their information), and damaging their willingness to play again. McDonald’s makes claiming rewards easy and then offers an additional value exchange for agreeing to be contacted for marketing purposes. Seeing as you’ve just ‘won’, why wouldn’t you chance your luck again in exchange for a tick in a box? 

This is something we wholeheartedly endorse. We also think it’s important to capture data at the right time. Our Voco platform enables rewards to be matched with actions at the individual level and is a really great way of progressively capturing additional earned data about each consumer. For example, Consumer A may have shared their email with you already, but you may not know their dietary requirements yet. Consumer B in contrast may have provided both of these items of data, so the next thing for them might be to poll for feedback about new vegan options. It’s a constant, ongoing and rewarding engagement.

-2 Lack of peripheral actions

Don’t get me wrong, one of the reasons McDonald’s MONOPOLY is so successful is its simplicity.  Plus, the fundamental rules of playing Monopoly are universally understood so players don’t have a learning curve to go through that could otherwise act as a barrier. It’s why so many of Voco’s games are instantly recognisable.

One could argue that McDonald’s MONOPOLY would benefit from driving repeat touches outside of the restaurant environment by offering more peripheral actions (especially if the game led or more heavily promoted a digital side to the campaign).

Why so? Because even if you love McDonalds’s you’re probably not going to visit more than a couple of times a month – I believe the restaurant chain classifies its ‘highest frequency’ customer segment as people that visit once a week. Even for this high frequency segment, six days out of seven these consumers aren’t engaging with the brand. What if the promotion still enabled consumers to engage with the campaign between visits and provided customers with other challenges (watch this content, follow this hashtag etc.) that also had a positive outcome for both parties over and above those they currently offer?

+4 FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)

McDonald’s doesn’t have as many ‘always on’ offers as other restaurant chains, so the campaign stands out as an annual event, generating a bit of FOMO accordingly. Other restaurant chains, in contrast, have effectively conditioned their audiences to never step into a restaurant without a discount voucher – less is more in this instance.

This plays into the ‘scarcity effect’. We want what we can’t have. Things are more appealing if they’re hard to come-by; it’s why we collect things that don’t have any intrinsic value. When there is perceived abundance, we just don’t care as much. 

“Our brains intuitively seek things that are scarce, unavailable, or fading in availability” says Yu-Kai Chou in his book ‘Actionable Gamification’.  So, we don’t want to miss out on the six- week window the game is available in the same way we’re more likely to want a Dark Blue Mayfair token knowing there are only four available (regardless of the prize value).

As the game has established itself as an annual tradition, it has also harnessed ‘social proof’.  

As humans, we’re often interested in things that others are interested in. And now, even when the game is announced, newspapers cover the ‘story’ and #McDonaldsMonopoly trends. The more people talk about the game, the more others are drawn to it.  

-3 Sticky Situations 

There was a backlash when McDonald’s MONOPOLY ditched the sticky backing of tokens, which meant players could no longer stick them to their boards. The accusation was that the company had made this change so players would lose tokens and be less likely to win.  

Although the genuine reason for the move is unclear, it’s unlikely that decreasing win rates was the motivation (surely more subtle approaches could have achieved that, if that was their intent). But regardless, the likelihood that such assumptions would be made should have been anticipated and avoided.  Anything that calls into question the integrity of the game or those behind the game, is not a good move and it’s surprising McDonald’s didn’t see the backlash coming.    

+5 Great User Experience (UX)

The game cearly works! Although the digital side of the campaign is limited, what it does, it does well. For example, there is a clever user experience trick during digital code redemption, one that is familiar in loot box game mechanics. There is a short wait to see whether the code wins anything or not. It may seem small, but it’s a very effective detail in creating suspense and excitement.  

McDonald’s MONOPOLY is a great example of what Yu-Kai refers to as ‘Explicit Gamification’, a clever branded game (as opposed to ‘Implicit Gamification’ which subtly employs gamification techniques in non game environments).

At 3radical, we work with leading brands on both Explicit and Implicit Gamification. Our Voco platform runs campaigns and incentives games, including board games like McDonalds Monopoly, for brands such as Zizzi and Foxy Bingo. But of course 3radical has a much wider array of digital game mechanics suited to different use-cases. For example, in Singapore over 100k consumers have engaged with a simple ‘Present Opening’ game as part of a large Bank’s loyalty scheme. In this game customers select and open a present box to earn a reward, effectively the same as the core mechanic of the McDonald’s board game, where you don’t know what prize your next token might unlock.

The expert 3radical team helps clients craft the perfect game mechanics for each experience and this includes finding the right rewards. Not every company can afford to run huge ‘give away’ promotions of course, but we’ve worked on games that motivate players through all sorts of means. Value after all, is highly subjective. 

So, will you be playing McDonald’s MONOPOLY this year? We’d love to know. And if you don’t want your tokens please send them our way!

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