Viral Case Study: How Students Got $50,000 From McDonald’s

Viral Case Study Jev and Christian with Ellen DeGeneres

Image from the Ellen show.

Being viral is the best thing for every business.

And for most people who are not into business, benefits can get even better when you’re recognized – You get awesome job offers, you get invited to talk on a radio or TV, and you get a ton of followers on your social media.

I’ve seen a lot of people getting shortcuts to success by being viral through various skits or gigs but this recent one regarding two students from Houston who shocked the whole world through their McDonald’s prank until they got invited to appear on Ellen DeGeneres, got my attention the most.

I was so intrigued that I started doing an analysis based on what I learned back then during my Integrated Marketing class which had a lot of elements connected.

Are you as interested as me on finding out how some random students got famous in 2 months? Then read on as I unveil the bigger Picture.


How Did They Get to Fame? -McDonald’s, I’m Lovin It!

jevh and christian viral case study

Ideas can go crazy sometimes when you frequent a place too much.

And for this case, the story began with two students from Texas who happened to go McDonald’s often and they saw an opportunity.

Jevh Maravilla and Christian Toledo noticed that of all the ad posters of McDonald’s ads, none of them included Asians in those photos so they wanted to change that.

As the duo was thinking of ideas on how to actually do that, they saw a wall spot without any picture frames there while they were eating at McDonald’s – It was just an empty wall space.

They looked around and saw that the CCTVs weren’t even pointing on that specific wall, probably because it’s just another wall, maybe that low handling ceiling light was blocking, or that maybe it wasn’t in any specific area that needed surveilling.

Jevh and Christian instantly got an idea where they wanted to add another McDonald’s ad poster of their own so they went back and got to work.

They bought some food from McDonald’s, posed themselves with a burger and fries in a place with good lighting and surroundings for their pictures, and went back to do some editing.

They then paid to print their poster and bought a McDonald’s uniform online in order to carry out their mission.

Came the day of reckoning, they went back McDonald’s in Pearland Texas and waited until night time so that most of the crowd were gone.

Once the coast was clear, Jevh put on his McDonald’s uniform so that he blended in, and guided his 2 friends to hang the poster ad on that empty wall spot.

He then waited for 51 days but surprisingly, none of the staff actually noticed that poster there so he finally tweeted it and got super viral instantly.

Very clever and well-thought idea, don’t you think? I have an office and I never looked at the wall images at all!

And believe it or not, from that one specific tweet alone, Jevh received 260k retweets and one million likes

Not only that, he also uploaded it on YouTube and got 1.3 MILLION views!

1 million viewers on YouTube

It got so viral with many sites covering about the students’ prank success but that wasn’t the end yet because soon after that, they got invited for an appearance with Ellen DeGeneres!

Because of their creative idea on making that poster (It actually looks kind of good) not to mention their appearance on Ellen DeGeneres, McDonald’s collaborated with Ellen to surprise them with a check of $25,000 for each of them!

McDonald’s also mentioned that the poster those students made will be taken down as the restaurant will be undergoing renovations but they will definitely be featuring both Jevh and Christian as the Asian diversity for their next marketing campaign.

I’m really happy and excited for them and I’m sure that this won’t be the end for them because as their trends will slowly go down again through time, we’ll be sure to see more of Jevh and Christian on one of McDonald’s future ads.


Top 5 Elements that Made Them Viral

This is the best part – Finding out what makes their gig so viral.

Element #1 – They Identified the Problem

family time at mcdonalds

Not all viral campaigns are based on a problem but those that do, is one of the main reasons they are viral.

Many people jump straight to solutions to cut their way to fame but what are you actually solving if you don’t even know the root of the problem?

Even if you do get viral, imagine reporters or even Ellen herself asking you, “Why did you do that stunt”?

If you do not have any valid reason for the viral gig that you’re attempting, everyone would criticize you saying that you’re just doing that particular action for cheap publicity and nobody likes that.

Not only that, all your followers would doubt and leave you ending you with lesser followers than before which is why you need a cause.

For Jevh and Christian’s case, the problem that they noticed here was, of course, the part where McDonald’s posters in the Pearland Texas branch did not portray any Asians on their ads, so they wanted to change that.

From trying to solve this issue alone, they got the attention of all the other Asians friends who then spread the word around on social media first which then, got the attention of everyone else and from there, it just keeps spreading.

Although solving a problem is one of the main elements, there’s also the question of how you achieve that…

Element #2 – Out-of-the-Box Idea That Helps the Company

Christian and Jevh in working clothes posing in front of their poster

What do you do when you want to get the attention of big companies?

You help them out.

Believe me, this is the easiest way to get their attention or the attention of just about anyone at all because they will obviously start to wonder, why on earth are you helping them free of charge?

Jevh and Christian did it right by going through the trouble of creating their own poster and pasting it on McDonald’s which obviously caught their attention.

Although it did take some time and a few tweets, they did notice these 2 students eventually and not only that, the HQ rewarded them handsomely for the effort and for the free marketing they received.

Some examples if you were to do it differently than Jevh and Christian…

  • Doing free classes for underprivileged people on school grounds – You’ll get attention from the school.
  • Creating a super bed and placing it on Ikea – Ikea might take you in under their creative wing.
  • Making a robot out of disposed electronics – You help reduce electronic waste and at the same time, creating something amazing.

You get the idea!

We live in an era where money matters so if you were to help other people for free without asking for anything in return, it’ll be an excellent marketing strategy because not only would they be surprised by you, everyone else will too.

Element #3 – Storytelling

Everyone loves a good story and until now, it is still one of the best forms of engagement.

Probably because we’re reminded of our younger days, or that it may be a source of inspiration for some, or maybe because we’re all too tired of working and we needed something to help take our minds off things.

The mechanism behind storytelling is hard to explain but it’s been around for many generations and until today, it’s still a very popular form of marketing.

Here’s a cool infograph by One Spot explaining the science behind it…

storytelling statistics 2017

Remember when Britney Spears shaved her head? she finally revealed the full story that she was under extreme depression due to personal reasons.

It’s not because of cheap publicity, she is already known worldwide but she was in a very deep spot and it messed her up.

Or when an immigrant from Mali climbed several floors of an apartment building in Paris just to save a falling boy back then in May 2018, it was because of his personal connection to children that moved him to do the unthinkable.

The same goes for this case – Jevh and Christian didn’t do a prank just to get famous.

They did the poster prank because they wanted more equality for Asians in American advertisements, especially in places they frequent a lot which in this case, is McDonald’s.

They didn’t go all the way to record a viral gig, no.

They simply added a few pictures after 51 days and only after they got viral, did they finally share the video of what happened behind the scenes.

Element #4 – Portraying Themselves as Consumers.

In France, we have this saying “Quand à Rome, fait comme les romains”.

In Rome, do as the Romans do which means that wherever we go, we need to blend in to be accepted and that’s exactly what Jevh and Christian did for their poster ad.

They wanted to show that they are loyal customers of McDonald’s and that they are not doing this poster stunt entirely for cheap publicity. So, they made it in a way that McDonald’s would see that they are one of them.

Jevh and Christian bought burgers and fries from McDonald’s, they added a logo there on their image and hell, they even bought a uniform to blend in seamlessly.

McDonald’s is a huge corporation with strict guidelines and they could as easily sue those students for easy money and save all the trouble but because the stunt was well carried out and that they see Jevh and Christian as their loyal consumers who just wants to do good, they take it as an opportunity to reward them instead.

It is a great idea because by doing so, it would make McDonald’s competitors like Burger King or Wendy’s to awe in jealousy when they see that McDonald has those type of consumers which places them on another level in the fast-food chain.

The stunt was well-carried out in my opinion because if Jevh and Christian were to use products that did not come from McDonald’s, they would have gotten themselves sued or much worse, jailed.

So if you want your publicity to work out and get favours from the respective bodies, blend in and try to make yourself a consumer or supporter of that specific place, organization, or company.

Element #5 – Emotional Anchor

People bond easily to you when you share what you’re feeling.

Whether it’s happy, sad, nervous, or fright – Humans can easily relate to those feelings and the connection goes way beyond words which is why sharing your emotions is a powerful thing if you want people to relate to you better.

On one of Jevh’s videos (Some next level editing he’s got there), you can see how nervous everyone was here…

At first glance, it looked simple and not scary at all – Just some students putting up a poster, what’s so scary about that right?

But after they started sharing the whole entire journey from idea-making to buying that McDonald’s outfit online, viewers got hooked to their story and wanted to know more.

Jevh and Christian didn’t have any bad intentions and they just wanted to see how the photo would look like however at the same time, they were also afraid that McDonald’s would do something to them.

They explained how careful they were when putting up the poster ad – They used tapes to stick it so that it won’t damage the wall, used a McDonald’s logo on their image, and waited till late night when all the other customers had left so that they won’t bother McDonald’s source of income.

They catalogued everything in their video but of course, shared their journey on Twitter so that their audience was informed of the process.

People reacted super crazy on their Twitter thread because they can relate to that and one of them also shared a similar experience they did on poster swapping…

Sharing how you feel with your audience is a great way to connect with them because it shows that you are down on their level and not above them because nobody likes a snobbish know-it-all.

When Jevh and Christian reached Ellen DeGeneres’ place (They were invited), they understood well that it is a rare opportunity that not many people get so they shared a picture to their audience to keep them updated, and let them know how they felt…

Because of the emotional attachment that Jevh has established with his audience, people related to him easier and they were able to understand the reason behind what that which is why they supported both Jevh and Christian instead of backlashing them.

Nervousness and laughter aren’t the only emotions at play, there is a whole bunch of them and you can refer to the Wheel of Emotions by Psychologist Robert Plutchik to find out the full variety of it…

The various wheel of emotions by Robert Plutchik

Huge corporations also leverage on emotions for their campaign, like joyful advertisements for children, love for teens, and luxury for entrepreneurs.

Do you feel scared when watching horror shows?

If you’ve noticed, the frightful feeling will linger for a few days even after you’ve watched the show and that’s because movie producers spent months planning on the perfect horror leverage to make sure it is connected to your everyday lifestyle so that you will continue to remember the show.

Horror shows aren’t actually scary if those monsters don’t exist in real life – But if they were to be connected to the real world, you’re definitely in for a thrill.

Regardless of what campaign you are planning to do, if you share the emotional train ride with your audience, you can easily bond with them for better engagement.


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The features they have there are really all that you need to be successful online – Things like a keyword tool, live video training, website health checker, or speed booster but the most powerful thing there I would say, is the community of bloggers and entrepreneurs inside.

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Final Word

Viral stories are awesome but as a marketer, learning on how they get viral in the first place is the real question.

I really love how carefully planned the prank was, like instead of waiting a week or two, they waited for almost 2 months before revealing the whole plan and they even took the time to edit a video and add it on YouTube for better traction.

Thanks for reading guys, I hope the analysis was helpful and if you’d like more info on how I do what I do for a living, check out my top-ranked program here.

Let me know if you have any ideas on what you’d like me to cover next, I’d love to hear some of your ideas 🙂

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46 comments to “Viral Case Study: How Students Got $50,000 From McDonald’s”
  1. I love pranks, yet never thought of pranking while trying to be an online business.  This has got to be uplifting enought to know that blogging and online marketing is literally anything you want to make it.  I wouldn’t have noticed until the Ellen show, as I love her too. 

  2. Hi Riaz! I enjoyed Jevh and Christian’s prank. But I have appreciated even more the useful breakdown you have done of this story.

    There are a couple of marketing ideas I learned from this post. First, telling stories is a good way to connect with our audience. And second, our followers can relate to our emotions.

    Thank you very much! Great story and useful post!

  3. Very interesting story and creative thinking to find opportunities in a place where others see only impossibilities. I’ll say turning an empty wall into a breakthrough. Not only careful in executing their plan but believed that it could work to the extent where they spent money on their idea with no hope of returns. Waooooow!!

    The story is not only crazy but inspirational and you’ve given a different perspective with your breakdown. Thanks for the ideas you’ve provided. 

    • I know right, from nothing with no expectations to fame and an offer beyond their wildest dreams. Super proud of them !

  4. Great story , Awesome testimony. I absolutely love what I read in this insightful article because it is full of great information. This is fascinating and interesting to me. This is very obvious that people who thinks outside the box ain’t afraid of going extra miles. Ideas rules the world, being an affiliate marketers, idea can boost affiliates marketing business. Good job. Regards 

  5. Hi Riaz,

    Thus has been an absolutely thrilling story. Innovation and creativity is quickly taking over the world. I don’t think they were looking for publicity when they went about this, but it has turned out really huge for them.

    They have been able to help me Mc Donald’s see a flaw in their system and correct it. I really must commend them for their “out of the box” thinking, and I’m sure they will make good careers in marketing.

    Inspiring article!

  6. This is lovely and I need to congratulate them once again, they are one of the few sets of people that utilized the benefits of social media to make fame and be succesful. I have always told my co workers that in order to make it in life, we all need to identify a problem and think towards solving the challenges attached to the problem which is what these two guys has done already. I am hopeful i will also meet my lucky star somehow someday

  7. Hello Riaz! I’m so thrilled about this whole thing and I must confess that this article made my day. I love it so so much. I also watched the video and I must confess that Jevh and co did absolutely well and I will do all I can to emulate them as they are good examples to follow. Thank you so so much for sharing this amazing information. 

  8. I think that it is awesome that these two made an effort to help a large corporation understand the idea of diversifying their image.  This is something that a lot of companies are trying to do right now, not for political correctness necessarily, but because they see that their audience is more diverse and if they make ads, promote their products with people that look like their audience, it make an emotional connection and enables more of their product to be sold.  Marvel has also done this with their current line of comic books.

    It is great that they got some recognition for what they did.  I am glad that there were no legal consequences for such a silly prank and that McDonald’s actually took it seriously in the way that it was intended.  I am no fan of fast food, but I can say that when large corporations act like they care rather than trying to penalize people, that is big.

    • I know right, it reflects on their image when they show compassion. People will love McDonald’s more and I bet with the visibility they got, they would have made more sales as more people are supporting them.

  9. Hi Riaz,

    That is a great article! I really enjoyed reading it.

    The thing that struck me most, is that both parties could have things a little differently and the it could have been a very negative story.

    The students could have have complained and started a whole media bashing of McDonalds and McDonalds could have sued the students (as you said).

    I’m really happy it turned out the way it did and I’m 100% sure this story has gotten much exposure because it has had a positive effect.

    A lot of people these days could learn that lesson. Positivity > Negativity 


  10. Yes, a well thought plan on how go for something that would cause the world to think with them. Being viral is not something of being handsome or being beautiful. It is being loved by the people because to them it projects meaning and values needed to be supported and promoted.

    If anyone wants to go on viral, definitely it is not just because they like to be viral, it should be something that offers important thing to the masses that will support.

  11. Hello Riaz, another awesome article from you. This is great work you are doing. I swear if you asked me what made these Asian students I would have simply said, because they tweeted and uploaded on YouTube. I did not see the elements that you’ve highlighted come, but after going through them, I couldn’t agree more.Many thanks for this insight.Best, Victor

    • I was thinking the same way you did Victor, but after seeing a lot of viral skits, my mind couldn’t help but wonder how it all worked so I did a case study about it!

  12. It just goes to show that those who think outside the box, no matter how strange and diverse the idea, can always come out on top because they are prepared to take that step – they are not afraid to go the extra mile. 

    I’m wondering if these two guys can now kick on and get a proper job in marketing somewhere – they’ve already proved they have the mind for it?

  13. It’s always interesting to see stuff go viral. Sometimes you just wonder if it’s actually going viral on it’s own or if there is a marketing plan behind it. I’m not convinced on either way. There’s probably little bit of both going on. 

    I am convinced however that your recommendation of Wealthy Affiliate will definitely help people learn a lot about making money online and promoting their own websites and businesses.

  14. Wow – fabulous story and fabulous result for these brave entrepreneurs. I am totally blown away by the fact that no Mac staff asked them what they were up to when hanging the poster – just goes to show if you look as if you belong no-one will question you. And then landing up on Ellen’s show.

    And then $25K each!!  Holy moly – dream come true.

    The moral of the story (if there is one) is give a little with no expectations and you never know what will come of it.  I think Ellen’s show is exactly that too.

    A very interesting read thank you – and something that we, here in little old New Zealand, would not likely have heard about.

    Great post.

    • You know what they say Lawrence, fake it till you make it! Loving New Zealand, very peaceful place and not as hectic as KL, sending love from Malaysia buddy!

  15. Hi Riaz, I found another one of your sites and I must admit this really caught my eye.  McDonald’s is major.  So of course I wanted to know more on how these kids got $50k with a wall pic idea.  Lets start with how your website immediately grabbed me. The topic itself is mind boggling.  I also like that you list the elements of how to win in this viral game.  Many of us could use all the help we can.

    Top 5 Elements that Made Them Viral

    I think this is a strategy most of us could follow.

    #Thanks for Sharing


    • Awesome to know that you’re into the viral part Teepee, I got hooked on that too and listed down the main element based on what i learned back in my marketing class. It doesn’t just apply to them but any other businesses too, all you need to do is alter those.

  16. This was a fascinating read. I loved the fact that they didn’t ask for permission, they saw an opportunity and took action! Personally, I believe element #3 is the key, storytelling is so underrated! The narrative, how we tell a story so that people can connect is so important to any brand or business. I’d be interested to hear some storytelling tips? I love that they got rewarded for this act. I bet they didn’t think they would be on Ellen DeGeneres when they first saw that blank spot on the wall!

    • They totally didn’t expect to be featured Angelo, you should have seen how nervous they were on Ellen’s show! An opportunity of a lifetime, even I would be thrilled to be there. 

  17. i wish I have that amount of money too. 50000 dollars can solve many of my life problems but creating a viral fame is not that easy. It looks simple but it has to catch everybody’s attention and likes to become viral. McDonald’s sure love them very much for this.

    • It’s definitely worth it if you can catch the eyes from the entire world, Kit. 

      Reaching that viral moment takes a lot of effort, trials and errors but it’s doable and definitely worth it. And yup, McDonald’s is really lovin it since both Jevh and Christian got them free marketing which would have costed them thousands of dollars to pull. Maybe we could try pull those off too 😉

  18. You have some great articles here Riaz, I heard of Jevh Maravilla and Christian Toledo. They detected a problem and found a very original way to tackle it. They where on the Dutch news too. Thanks for sharing the Ellen DeGeneres video, I hadn’t seen it yet. Awesome to be invited at her show! So, when you have an idea, just put it out there. We can not all decorate a McDonalds wall with posters, but we can all bring out our own wall of fame on a website;)


    • Wow ingenious plan Loes! 

      Would be awesome if we could do that, McDonald’s would be overwhelmed by us definitely. Jevh and Christian got so famous, we’re hearing about them too all the way here in Malaysia so I figured I do a research on their success. Appreciate the kind words as always, thanks for dropping by!

  19. Amazing story Riaz,

    Imagine having the idea in the first place and then the ingenuity to carry the whole plan out. It’s also interesting that their ploy wasn’t discovered for over 50 days!

    As a marketer myself, I’m always interested in new ideas and, naturally, anything with the potential to go viral grabs my attention! I’m now thinking how I could apply this to my own work.

    Please keep your eyes open for more ideas like this, always interested to see what you come up with.

  20. Hi Riaz,

    WOW, super story! I really enjoyed the reading!
    That’s amazing how these two students suddenly got an idea and applied it. I think that most people don’t dare to do original things, Even though, the idea passes through the head, we usually let it go, maybe because we lack faith or perhaps we are afraid of people’s reactions:). Anyway, great for these two guys!

    Thank you for this excellent post!

    • I know right, I remember how many ideas I let pass through my head without trying it out because of the people around me who weren’t very supportive. Glad like you liked the article Daniella! Appreciate the feedback!

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