McDonald's dug deep into its inventory of discontinued menu items, resurrecting its long-forgotten "Mulan" Szechuan dipping sauce, and now it's basking in a glaze of delicious karma on social media.
This weekend, the fast-food chain sent a half-gallon bottle of the dipping sauce to the creator of "Rick and Morty" Justin Roiland, because he mentioned the sauce in his freaky sci-fi show's season premiere.
Cartoon Network, which airs 'Rick and Morty,' streamed the pilot online in April to stir interest in the full season starting this weekend, and in that pilot there were multiple mentions of the McDonald's dipping sauce.
Since then, McDonald's hinted it might just re-release the sauce, which had been created for a limited time in 1998 to promote the Disney cartoon film "Mulan."
"Rick and Morty" is based loosely on the old mad scientist and scraggly voiced kid characters of "Back to the Future." Rick, the grandfather, takes his grandson, Morty, on sic-fi adventures. In the season premiere, Rick uses the deliciousness of Szechuan sauce to distract aliens and make an intergalactic prison escape.
At the end of the show, he frightens Morty by revealing his true master plan all along has been to track down the McDonald's dipping sauce in whatever dimension it's still being made.
McDonald's couldn't help but notice when the fanbase went crazy over the sauce on Reddit back in April. The chain has even hinted it might bring back the sauce so everyone could taste the nostalgia.
For season three, McDonald's sent show creator Roiland a personal batch of the sauce, and promised to award three more containers to fans. "Holy shit," Roiland tweeted after receiving the prize over the weekend.
"For now, only a limited amount of Szechuan Sauce got through from the always-1998 dimension," a McDonald's rep said in an e-mail statement, with a nod to the show's science fiction theme. "Who knows where space-time will take us because when our customers speak, we listen."
Holy shit. pic.twitter.com/vNEIfHTmNU— Justin Roiland (@JustinRoiland) July 30, 2017
A picture of the Szechuan sauce stash, posted by McDonald's, got 17,000 retweets on Twitter, and a Periscope video promoting the giveaway got nearly 200,000 views.
A Facebook post of the sauce photo got 21,000 likes and 26,000 shares.
Social media can be friendly territory for fast-food marketers, but not all the time. This year, Wendy's won free promotion with the most retweeted message of all time in a campaign that became known as "Nuggs for Carter." Carter Wilkinson asked Wendy's for free nuggets if his tweet reached a certain number of people.
Brands have to look out for anytime they get mentioned in a popular show, even obscure ones like "Rick and Morty," because their niche followings are often the most energized. The Netflix series "Stranger Things," for instance, brought back Eggo waffle memories to masses of watchers.
McDonald's declined a request for further comment, and it's unclear if its Omnicom agency partner We Are Unlimited was involved in the "Rick and Morty" response. (Update: Both We Are Unlimited and Golin were involved, according to McDonald's.)
Here's a Twitter Moment that compiles most of the action: