McDonald's Grimace milkshake was destined to become a viral hit. It had a vibrant purple color, a mascot that could be used as a meme, and a limited availability window.
The company probably did not plan for users of TikTok to play dead in order to make the shake a success.
TikTok users are ordering the Grimace Shake, which was released to celebrate the 'birthday' of McDonald's character Grimace, and then pretending that they have died on camera, after drinking the purple drink. The users often pour the purple shake on their convulsing body, implying that Grimace - Ronald McDonald's bumbling friend - has killed them.
McDonald's probably hoped for viral success but perhaps not through disturbing fake-deaths. McDonald's TikTok videos were viewed millions of time this month.
Matthew Prince, adjunct professor at Chapman University, California, said that what may appear to be a negative expression, is in fact a reflection of the ability of these people to connect with an entire generation. It's gaining views, getting laughs, and as the viral trend increases, it is gaining sales.
Purple shake, the latest viral food
McDonald's began selling the Grimace Shake on June 12th, which was Grimace's birthday. Reports claim that Grimace is 52. Grimace announced the treat himself by taking over the social media accounts of the company.
This rollout was in line with recent McDonald's marketing strategies to gain cultural credibility and leverage virality. The restaurant has worked with celebrities like J Balvin, Travis Scott and other musicians to create celebrity-approved meals. They have also teamed up Cactus Plant Flea Market for collectible toys of the Happy Meal.
McDonald's played with scarcity before the collectors started reselling limited-edition designer toy. Its Shamrock shake and McRib were only available for just a few weeks a year. They've since become cult favorites.
Grimace has, however, become more infamous rather than loved. In a typical Grimace Shake TikTok a young person will hold a Grimace Shake and wish the purple mascot happy birthday, before taking their first drink. In the grips of death and a purple liquid puddle, we see a TikTok user. They'll sometimes play dead in an abandoned house, a dark alley or draped on a McDonald's. They may even vomit purple color before they'succumb' to death.
Grimace is a villain with a long history
Grimace was not always an amorphous, happy creature. Food & Wine reports that when he first appeared in 1970s commercials, he was referred to as 'evil Grimace', a four-armed, purple blob. He used his many limbs for absconding with milkshake cups. Even in the 1970s commercials, however, the bumbling burglar never tried to poison or kill anyone who got in his path.
Ad executives realized that Grimace scared young consumers and softened his character by removing the word 'evil" from the descriptors, as well as lopping off one of Grimace's arms. The benevolent Grimace became a triangular lump among Ronald McDonald's fast food fans, while the villainous Hamburglar took over Grimace's role.
McDonald's is still unsure of what Grimace actually is. The corporate Twitter account of McDonald's told a customer in 2014 that Grimace was the incarnation of a shake or taste bud.
Grimace's ambiguity, along with his criminal past, has made him an ideal template for memes.
The Grimace Shake Gambit was a Success
McDonald's created a menu that would draw attention by offering a new menu item with a purple color and associating it with an infamous character. CNN reported that 'Frankenfoods,' which are limited-edition, strange foods that defy the definition of edible, are often popular for fast-food joints. CNN cited Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos, (tacos wrapped in Doritos-flavored hard shells), and Burger King Whopperito, (a burger in a tortilla), as two examples of food mashups that have generated buzz from consumers.
The Grimace shake, while tamer, is still a gamble. It's a berry milkshake that's closer to Heinz green ketchup rather than nauseating mustard flavored ice-cream. The hashtags #grimaceshake, and #grimace, had accumulated nearly 640 and 750 million views on TikTok by Wednesday afternoon.
Its unconventional success fits a product that is unconventional. Prince, a professor at Chapman University, told CNN, 'what appears to be weird viral ploys for some is simply good brand engagement reflecting a younger generation.' He said that the Grimace shake speaks to Gen Z in terms of humor and cultural interest.
McDonald's, when asked for comment, referred CNN back to a Grimace tweet:'meee pretending i don't notice the grimace shaking trended', along with a picture of the purple one, his eyebrows raised.