I tried to get my child a Grimace shake last week, and my local McDonald’s was sold out. This was the second time since the shake’s launch on June 12 that my son has been denied the purple concoction that has since gone stunningly viral on TikTok and beyond. And apparently, mine isn’t the only market experiencing a shortage of the limited-time shakes.
Interestingly, my son has never clamored for a McDonald’s milkshake before (opting instead for a basic Oreo McFlurry), but the virality of the Grimace Shake challenge that began on TikTok has piqued his interest. He’s not the only one. In just over two weeks, the Grimace Shake challenge has garnered over 1.4 billion (with a b!) impressions. For the uninitiated, the challenge features creators trying the shake and then pretending to pass out, or die, afterwards. The challenge is a nod to Gen Z absurdist humor that is well above my Gen X thought processes, but it is clearly and consistently providing entertainment value across generations.
McDonald’s responded with a subtle nod because McDonald’s is a savvy marketing machine that knows any type of response, or at the very least an acknowledgement, will add to the playfulness of the campaign. This whole thing underscores where we are right now as an industry. Marketing, which had sensitively gone quiet through much of 2020 and parts of 2021, has regained its spot on the throne, but that spot is harder to come by. Marketers are challenged with capturing lightning in a bottle as it strikes – on TikTok or elsewhere – to generate enough excitement (and unpaid media) to drive curious consumers into the door.
McDonald’s has cruised this wave before, for example with the Cactus Plant Flea Market collaboration and celebrity campaigns like the Travis Scott Meal. For the past two years, the brand has been churning out such collaborations that have driven traffic and injected the brand into pop culture and, by extension, social media conversations.
But who could have possibly predicted a purple, blobby and, ahem, older mascot would generate similar levels of buzz? Behold, the power of nostalgia – embraced by many brands of late – combined with the mass appeal and value of TiKTok.
McDonald’s didn’t respond to an inquiry about the extent of its Grimace Shake supply shortages, but what we can tell you this: the product has, indeed, driven material traffic increases. Data from Placer.ai emailed to Nation’s Restaurant News show that McDonald’s traffic the week of the launch – June 12 – was up 5.7% year-over-year and 0.3% week-over-week (compared to a 3.3% traffic decline the week prior). The following week, when the challenge started to gain some steam, traffic was up 7% year-over-year and 1.7% week-over-week.
And, the week of June 26, when full virality was achieved on TikTok, McDonald’s traffic was up a staggering 16.4% year-over-year and 13% week-over-week.
“The Grimace Shake is the latest in a series of wins from McDonald’s product and marketing teams. Over the past two years, we’ve seen strong increases in visits to McDonald’s due to its Celebrity Meal collaborations and last year’s Adult Happy Meal offering, which was one of the most successful QSR promotions to date,” said R.J. Hottovy, Placer.ai’s head of analytical research. “The Grimace Shake promotion has been helped by a strong nostalgia component but also viral customer TikTok videos, resulting in increasingly stronger year-over-year visit growth trends every week in June.”
McDonald’s today bid farewell to Grimace on its social media channels with a post from the character that read, “u made me feel so specialll ty say goodbye grimace nowww.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Goodbye Grimace” began trending on Twitter shortly after that post and most responses expressed a somber tone.
Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]