‘Tired of seeing the same old merchandise’: Building fun into McDonald’s and Bunnings’ marketing

When it comes to disposability, corporate branded merchandise is up there with plastic picnic cups and cassingles.

But Craig Pinker, CEO of Novelli, is working fast to change this perspective, crafting creative and collectable merch for McDonald’s, Bunnings, and around 400 others brands across the country.

Novelli makes “meaningful branded merchandise that connects with people as humans and enhances their lives in a meaningful way”, according to their mission statement. In other words, this is stuff you won’t wanna toss out.

They were the company behind the recent Macca’s Makers 56-piece brick-building set, a LEGO-compatible replica of McDonald’s restaurant, adorned with a glow-in-the-dark Golden Arches – a step-up from the company’s usual Happy Meal fare.

Prior to this, Novelli delivered a LEGO-compatible (you’ll note the legal distinction) Bunnings Warehouse playset, which was so popular they had to bring it back for a second run.

It’s not just bricks, either. Novelli’s approach is delivering branded merchandise that represents a brand’s values, while establishing a tangible, emotional connection with customers.

Craig Pinker, CEO at Novelli, explains why it’s important for marketers to create out-of-the-box branded merchandise.


First off, can you tell me how you got involved in quite a novel marketing space? Were there many others doing what you are doing when you launched?

We got into this space after years of wholesaling unbranded apparel and merchandise. The opportunities kept arising to supply the finished product direct to corporates, and with the rising desire for customisation and authenticity, our model just exploded.

The positioning of our business was strategic; indeed our very vision is born from a desire to do things completely differently to the norm. Every customer we spoke with was tired of seeing the same old merchandise catalogues, with very little value-add being offered by the vendor. We deliberately don’t have a catalogue, everything we do is custom and bespoke to meet a particular brief.

In a global pitch recently, one of the panelists said, “What we’ve seen from Novelli, is a refreshing change to everyone else”. This was a massive validation for us as this is exactly what we are striving for.

How did the Macca’s Makers concept come about? Is this the first LEGO-style merchandise you’ve made?

The idea was floated to McDonald’s some 12 months prior, as a potential replacement for the Silly Socks which had been a success for a number of seasons.

While it wasn’t our first compatible building block project, the need to design it to meet McDonald’s Global Happy Meal Product Safety Standards was! It was something that had been floated in the Macca’s system for some time, however it had never been achieved.

It took our team a lot of blood, sweat and tears to bring it to life but it was incredibly rewarding seeing the finished product, and hearing positive feedback from across Australia and across the globe.

How closely do you work with the brands? Do you offer various ideas and options for them to choose from, or do they approach you?

We essentially work as an extension of our client’s team. We produce our best work when we know and understand the goals and objectives, and also the challenges that our client is facing. Every item we create is tailored to a specific client and brand.

Our ideation sessions are the magic sauce. They’re based off a brief and, often with the client included in the session, our global team come up with a bunch of crazy ideas. We then we go away and work our magic on bringing the concepts to life.

What are some of the more novel branded products you’ve worked on?

Where do we start? It’s generally subtle tweaks to an existing product that make it quirky. For example, it’s amazing how much people love a beanie that is reversible and turns the wearer into a heritage cartoon character.

The craziest product that comes to mind is a set of burger ingredients, each as fully sublimated shirts. It made for a bit of crazy festival fun when you had to race around, catching each “ingredient” to build a human burger.

Obviously, anyone can whack a logo on a product – what differentiates what you offer from the likes of quick-print stores and Snapfish?

The main point of differentiation is we don’t just whack a logo on a product! Every product we create is designed to a brief, and always produced specifically for the client. This enables us to incorporate details such as inside printing or custom moulded branding methods, making the products genuinely authentic and desirable.

Many brands fall into the trap of thinking that building an emotional connection with customers takes grand gestures and highly visible marketing activity.

We’ve come to understand that the small and often personal moments have the most significant impact on connecting customers to brand.


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