Campaign of the Week

9 January 2024

McDonald’s sells single nuggets to appease sharers — and maths geeks 

To celebrates the anniversary of the Chicken McNugget, McDonald's in Switzerland started selling the menu item in individual portions, in a nod to decades-old math theorem

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of its menu staple, the Chicken McNuggets, fast food giant McDonald’s launched a campaign in Switzerland celebrating math nerds as well as anyone who’s ever had to share a poultry portion.

As part of the Chicken McNuggets of Love promotion, people can buy individual nuggets for a limited time only.

The initiative is a nod to the intriguing Chicken McNugget Theorem, a mathematical problem that has captivated math enthusiasts on the internet for years, and was even featured in Ilan Vardi’s 1991 book, Computational Recreations in Mathematica.

The challenge posed by the theorem lies in the fact that it is impossible to order specific quantities of McNuggets, such as seven, eleven, or 16, as they are currently sold in packs of four, six, nine or 20 in Switzerland.

The mathematical quirk means that fair sharing of the chicken nuggets can be a nightmare, and there is often competition over who gets the last one. The single packs provide customers with the opportunity to break away from the conventional quantities, making sharing easier for a mere CHF1.20 ($1.27) per nugget.

The initiative, created by TBWA\Switzerland, Zurich, was promoted in a short ad playing up the battle for that last McNugget.

Contagious Insight 

Double dipping / While the QSR chain didn’t initiate the mathematical musings on the numbers of McNuggets one could order, it astutely recognised a pain point that it could address – and relate to – the dedicated community of math enthusiasts. But addressing the common experience of sharing a pack of chicken nuggets extends the campaign’s reach beyond the maths fans, making it appealing to a broader audience. Chicken McNuggets of Love draws on multiple insights: not only does the number of nuggets sold in each pack fascinate niche corners of the internet, but it’s also the cause for – sometimes fierce – competition over who gets the last nugget. Offering people additional McNuggets sold by the unit taps into a relatable moment of sharing, as the single packs are presented as a solution to the very relatable, fundamental unwillingness to concede the last nugget to someone else – especially when that nine-pack can’t be split evenly.

Blending the celebration of a beloved menu item with a touch of mathematical intrigue and the spirit of sharing, the campaign made both a niche community and the general public feel seen – at once providing a temporary solution to the Chicken McNuggets Theorem and the fight for the last chicken piece of chicken.

Moments and memories / In 2018, in the US, the popularity of McDonald’s was on the decline. It needed to invest in creativity, brand building and the emotional power of the McDonald’s brand – a task taken on by agency Wieden+Kennedy. The agency embarked on in-the-field research and found a wealth of insights that proved that people still had positive associations with Mickey D’s, and used them to help establish the brand’s new creative strategy and tone of voice for the US. The agency calls such McDonald’s moments, memories, rituals and behaviours ‘Fan Truths’.

‘We now talk fan to fan – that’s the pivot,’ Jennifer Healan, VP of marketing, brand content and engagement for McDonald’s US, told Contagious in our 2023 Brand Spotlight. This approach has ‘helped McDonald’s to become stickier, more approachable, memorable and impactful’, she added. The ‘battle for the last nugget’ is one such fan truth, and here the brand flexes it with fun and finesse. 

On a purely sales level, the limited-time offer is the type of promotion where people might opt for just a single chicken nugget, driven by the novelty and quirkiness of the offering, as well as by its low price.

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