Honolulu Star Advertiser
By Allison Schaefers

As a way to promote travel to the islands, specialty menu items like the Pineapple Pie are being offered at more than 3,100 McDonald’s locations in Japan as part of the World Mac Hawaii campaign.
 Hawaii Tourism Japan is hoping a new marketing partnership that will put five Hawaiian-themed, limited-edition items on menus at McDonald's restaurants in Japan will cause more of those diners to salivate for the isles, too.

The World Mac Hawaii campaign, which started Tuesday and runs through late March, will be featured in McDonald's restaurant menus, tray sheets and promotions at more than 3,100 locations throughout Japan. Specialty menu items include the Hawaiian BBQ Pork Burger, Loco Moco Burger, Hawaiian Pancakes with Mixed Berries, Pineapple Pie and Mc¬Shake Banana.

"McDonald's is one of the most popular fast-food chains in the country, and Hawaii is among the most desired overseas destinations among Japa¬nese," said David Uchi¬yama, the Hawaii Tourism Authority's vice president of brand management. "The campaign is an innovative way for us to reach millions of Japa¬nese across the country and keep Hawaii top of mind."

Eric Takahata, managing director of HTJ, which is a marketing partner of HTA, said an accompanying trip giveaway should promote even more destination awareness. To enter to win a trip for four to Hawaii, courtesy of Japan Airlines and Starwood Hotels & Resorts, consumers must take a Hawaii-themed menu quiz. Nine groups of four will be selected and announced in April.

Takahata said the campaign and giveaway create "an exciting opportunity to share a taste of the Hawaiian Islands and entice consumers to want to experience it firsthand."

Members of the state's visitor industry, who have been struggling in recent times to keep Japanese arrivals and spending from dwindling in the wake of less favorable exchange rates and their struggling economy, say they hope the campaign will bolster the state's No. 1 international market. The idea of McDonald's teaming with Hawaii is smart for both brands, which are each grappling with their own issues, said Dave Erdman, president and chief executive officer of PacRim Marketing Group Inc. and PRTech LLC.

"The timing is interesting, since McDonald's has unfortunately been rocked in Japan with multiple crisis communications issues. One might say this is not the best time to align with McDonald's and their brand. On the other hand, McDonald's needs ‘brand Hawaii' at this time to stimulate interest in their business and sales with these special menu offerings," Erdman said.

Similar partnerships have worked well in the past. From 1997 to 2000, Erdman said, the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau and the Oahu Visitors Bureau partnered with McDonald's in Japan to create a biannual publication featuring Hawaii in conjunction with the fast-food chain's in-store magazine, McJoy. It was supported by Hawaii partners such as Outrigger Hotels and Ala Moana Center, included contests for winners to visit the islands and reached millions of McDonald's consumers and enthusiasts.

"PacRim Marketing Group Inc. initiated and launched that partnership in 2007, and ever since, I've dreamed of seeing a Hawaii-McDonald's cooperative promotion featuring Hawaii-themed menu items," Erdman said. "This helps promote the ‘brand Hawaii' even more. The contest with Starwood and JAL is important to creating additional engagement and is very positive."

Erdman said the promotion comes as Burger King in Japan has been experimenting with items such as a Kuro burger, or "black burger," which was infused with squid ink and had squid ink ketchup and black cheese.

If the Hawaii menu items are tasty, Erdman said social media in Japan will help propel the promotion and positively affect both brands in a fun and engaging way.

"It is important to continue to communicate with the Japa¬nese traveler and engage them about the Hawaii destination in order to keep them as loyal and repeat visitors to Hawaii," he said. Hawaii, like many outbound destinations from Japan, is experiencing a reduction of Japanese travelers due to factors such as exchange rates, geopolitical issues and improved domestic travel offerings, Erdman said.

"Hawaii needs to continue strong marketing efforts focused on the Japan market in order to increase Hawaii's share of the outbound market from Japan," Erdman said.