Chaotic videos of teens and mascots across all sorts of brands trying the Grimace shake only for something indescribable to happen to them litter social media. Why? Why does the Grimace shake inspire such a reaction?
And why did it make people want the shake more?
It’s no secret that songs with trends attached usually do better on TikTok. Drake’s song “Kiki” started a somewhat dangerous trend of dancing beside a moving car. Tessa Violet’s “Crush” inspired a trend of makeup videos. We have evidence it works for stuff outside of music, too – Martinelli Apple Cider containers blew up big time when teens on the app discovered that they sounded sort of like apples when crushed. Not really, but the incredulity only sold more apple cider.
If you can get something to trend on TikTok, you can sell tons of it. However, this comes with a downside: once the trend is over, the sales go back down. Pink sauce comes to mind – once it was no longer a spectacle, the desire to buy it went out the window for most. Now it’s at Walmart. In many pictures, it’s in the clearance section, a rainbow of inconsistent beige-pink sauce dominating the shelf.
Knowing that, a limited, never-been-done before promotion for Grimace’s birthday was a great idea. The McRib? Shamrock shakes? Who cares, those are things the adults talk about when they come back. The real killer is something new to the teens who go to McDonald’s, and by golly the Grimace Shake delivered.
It’s purple! It’s allegedly blueberry flavored. It comes in a special cup. It’s the sort of cutesy, visually appealing, and easy to imagine beverage that social media loves. It was destined for success. But something bizarre started happening.
TikTok loves horror. They love liminal horror, they love personal horror, they love dreamlike Subway orders and nightmarish song generator accounts both featuring clever editing and implications never outright stated. In this environment, the thought “hey, wouldn’t it be funny if the grimace shake was secretly evil or something?” came to multiple creators almost at the same time. Predictably, the results were completely bizarre. The Grimace shake took on an almost Eldritch status, and consumers of it would do everything from chugging it to bathing in it to cutting to themselves in the Family Guy arm-behind-the-back death pose after drinking it. Truly, it was a phenomenon.
Ultimately, the marketing was a huge success. Teens made funny, trendy videos with the milkshake, kids enjoyed the taste and usually never saw those videos, and since the campaign had a clear ending time, it didn’t have time to start turning cringe. People didn’t run out of ideas before McDonalds stopped selling the shake, at least. As a marketing campaign, it was about the best McDonalds could hope for from a generation of ever-more jaded youngsters looking for something fun to do. Why not make a video with a McDonalds product for the internet? That sounds fun. And it was fun. Something weird happened to a business’s product and everyone just kept running with it. It’s wholesome in comparison to the treatment brands normally get online!