China Marketing Review: An original and quite unexpected co-branding campaign between McCafe and Dove


By Boulanger, Mathieu*

McCafé, the coffee-house-style food and beverage chain owned by McDonald’s, and Dove, a personal care brand owned by Unilever, collaborated this September 2021 on a co-branding campaign in China, centered on coffee taste and frothed milk texture. Dove is stepping into the coffee theme with the launch of a bundle of 2 new skincare products, an extra foamy face cleanser and body wash formula containing extract of arabica coffee beans, while McCafé is proposing a time-limited cold coffee topped with especially foamy frothed milk to create the link to the texture of body wash’s bubble, both brand strengthening their common selling point together in their communication.

This unexpected association didn’t fail to arouse the curiosity of the Chinese public, especially with the opening in Shanghai of a “McCafé x Dove bathhouse” pop-up shop. The bright and colorful shop was well designed to attract the targeted audience, college students and young adults, offering them quite an experience. All elements were designed to make the place photo-worthy, quickly becoming a must-go place for young people to create and share their next social media post.

Different items and backgrounds were available for you to use and spice your photo, like a microphone below a shower-head that is slowly leaking soap bubble, or some wearable items to borrow for the time of your photo shooting.

The McCafé x Dove bathhouse does a great job to make it an interesting experience that people want to try out and share, making it also customizable and different enough for everyone to make their own experience feel unique.

Aside from Shanghai’s bathhouse pop-up shop, Chinese consumers located in the rest of the country weren’t forgotten. McCafé’s stores located in 12 Chinese biggest cities were also decorated for the occasion, and the special drink was available at all McCafé in the country, with free stickers coming with it, allowing you to customize your drink cutely and funnily, and once again maximize the sharing potential on social media.

Overall, the target audience is more focused on young women by the cute and colorful visual thematic, the focus is on making it photo-worthy, target audience that match Dove’s target audience for its new product.

Dove target for this campaign was to quickly generate awareness for its new products and generate sales in its Tmall store, Dove’s bundle being tagged with Tmall’s “Hey box” (天猫小黑盒) on the packaging at launch, a tmall special marketing resource reserved for the launch of new products by big brand on its market place. Dove also worked with KOL and other social media accounts to seed content and the link to its store to funnel more efficiently traffic to its store.

For McCafé, the main purpose of the campaign is to increase its brand image to the young people; that tend to prefer other alternatives like Starbuck for coffee, which enjoy a stronger premium image, or the many local Milk Tea shops, that are a closer competitor for McCafé, as they do also sell coffee. Milk Tea consumption is largely done by young women, therefore the target audience makes sense in term market size and potential growth, while the choice of the drink, a cold latte coffee, make the transition from milk tea easier for those young women. After searching some data on coffee consumption habits, I was actually surprised to discover that post 80s women are the main consumer group of coffee. (I would have expected young men to be the main group) So the campaign targeting make clear sense now. Chinese coffee market is still at an earlier stage of development and McCafé tries to grow and secure its place in the market by improving its image, generating positive first time customer experience with the brand while making sure that more and more consumers are willing to try out its beverage, distributing “buy one get one free” coupon during the campaign.

Some Campaign’s Metrics:

Now that we covered the main story, let’s review some data to summarize the campaign.

On Weibo (a Chinese microblogging platform like Twitter), the campaign was more active on McDonald side, with 3 publications, the first one being a short video getting 99 likes and 213 comments, launching the super-topic 麦咖啡开澡堂 (meaning “#McDonald open a bathhouse”), topic totalizing 17 million views, 10 thousand comments, and 608 posters. While this is good exposure, those numbers still feel a little low on China size, when we compare with usual posts from McDonald’s Weibo account, the engagement is quite higher for usual posts than those for the bathhouse campaign, but concerning the super-topic numbers, my take is that most of the use of the topic was made on other social media like wechat rather than weibo, since it is the hashtag that was used in the pop-up shop to get access to a small lottery and gain coupons. Besides their own official account, there was also some publication from food KOL that generated large views and engagement to the campaign and the super topic.

For Dove, Weibo was not a strong channel, they sent 4 publications concerning this campaign, the first three not exceeding 20 engagements, while the last publication sent after the campaign ended, managed 150 likes but with the used of other hashtags related to the end of the Chinese national holidays.

On the social media platform Red (小红书), searching for 麦咖啡开澡堂 ( “#McDonald open a bathhouse”) shows 700+ publications, 麦咖啡泡泡拿铁 (The name of the drink in Chinese )shows 800+ publications, 多苏咖啡泡泡 (#DoveCoffeeFoam)shows 1200+ publications. Overall, both brands appear together in most publications inside the platform and the general opinion on the co-branding campaign is positive, people liking the concept and finding it interesting.

Unilever Tmall Flagship store (联合利华官方旗舰店):

The 2 bottles bundle is currently sold for 109 CNY (~$16.92). The store page of Dove’s bundle accumulated more than 300’000 units sold, which would be (very grossly estimated) 32.7 million CNY (more than 5 million USD) and 33 300 reviews. Reviews are largely positive and about the scent of coffee. In terms of units sold, this place the product at the 10th place among all other links, for only a period of a little more than one month. Most sales are probably concentrated in the first 10 days of the campaign.

Final thought:

McCafé x Dove co-branding campaign was an original and surprising one that generated a large exposure for both brands. It helped Dove to launch successfully its new product, but we will need to see how this product’s sales maintain onward, as the counter of units sold for the last 30 days already dropped to 2000+ units. Regarding McCafé, this campaign is part of its longer strategy to improve its image, and this campaign alone will not be enough, the brand will now have to work on how it can retain those newly acquired consumers.

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