UPDATE: "Rick and Morty" co-creator and voice actor Justin Roiland distanced himself from the McDonald's promotion, which he noted his team did not collaborate on, in a statement via Twitter.
FYI: We had nothing to do with this McDonald's stuff. Not happy w/how this was handled. Please be cool to the employees it's not their fault— Justin Roiland (@JustinRoiland) October 8, 2017
- McDonald's resurrected a limited-run promotional item, Szechuan dipping sauce, over the weekend to play off the condiment's popularity on the animated comedy series "Rick and Morty," where the titular mad scientist Rick Sanchez is obsessed with it. But the promotion ran afoul of devoted fans of the trippy sci-fi show when supplies quickly ran out, according to The Drum.
- Based on the report, it sounds like the chain planned poorly for the effort, as some restaurants didn't receive the special sauce or weren't notified about the promotion and those that were stocked only had a handful of packets to give out. In at least one instance, the police were called to deal with an angry crowd chanting "We want sauce."
- The rollout included 1,000 limited-edition posters created by agencies DDB and We Are Unlimited, though these don't explicitly mention "Rick and Morty" by name, instead cribbing from its art style. According to The Drum, the sauce packets and posters are being listed on eBay for hundreds of dollars. Following backlash, McDonald's now says it's going to create more of the dipping sauce to satisfy consumer demands, Cleveland.com reported.
McDonald's turning what could've been a slam-dunk promotional stunt into a PR headache shows a classic example of a brand jumping on a popular trend without properly researching or understanding the audience it's targeting. The Szechuan fumble feels particularly egregious since McDonald's must have known there would be high demand for the item. This summer, it gave away three half gallons of the condiment as "Rick and Morty" returned for the full run of its third season, attracting serious attention on social media and earning a shout-out from the show's co-creator Justin Roiland via Twitter.
"Rick and Morty" is incredibly popular, especially with the young millennial buyers McDonald's is eager to attract as its appeal with the age segment — which is demanding healthier, more transparent food options — continues to wither. "Rick and Morty" currently dominates the attentions of the key 18 to 34 demo, according to Ad Age. The show's third season finale, which aired last Sunday, beat out a tight slate of competition, attracting 1.52 million members of that group.
While these figures make for an appealing marketing target, the fact that the police had to be called in at some McDonald's locations amid sauce protests proves that that same audience is also incredibly sensitive, demanding and prickly. McDonald's marketing team clearly didn't fully think through how to handle the initiative in terms of how popular it might be or even making sure all its franchise restaurants were aware of the effort, though it's still trying to spin a win out of the event with a reported broader sauce push in the near future.