Through New Year's, we'll be counting down the best work of the year in TV/Film/Branded Content, Print/Outdoor/Design and Interactive/Integrated (IX) as our picks of the day.
At #9 in the Interactive/Integrated category, McDonald's dipped back into its food archive by resurrecting a long-lost condiment--its "Mulan" Szechuan dipping sauce. The Golden Arches introduced it nearly 20 years ago as part of a co-promotion with the animated Disney film. The sauce reappeared in pop culture this year on the Season Three premiere of "Rick and Morty," when character Rick goes on a crazy rant about the sauce, creating tons of conversation on Reddit and other social channels. McDonald's rode that wave and sent a special gift to show creator Justin Roiland, his own batch of the sauce. But later in the fall, it made the sauce widely available to consumers once again (to be enjoyed with its new Chicken Tenders).
McDonald's dug deep into its inventory of discontinued menu items, resurrecting its long-forgotten "Mulan" Szechuan dipping sauce, and now it's riding a wave of good karma on social media. This weekend, the fast food chain sent a half-gallon bottle of the dipping sauce to creator of "Rick and Morty" Justin Roiland, because he mentioned the sauce in his freaky sci-fi show's season premiere. In April, season three of the cult hit "Rick and Morty" streamed online, before launching the full season this weekend, and there were multiple mentions of the McDonald's dipping sauce. Since the premiere, 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 grandson Morty on sci-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 company 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. A picture of the Szechuan sauce got 17,000 retweets on Twitter, and a Periscope video promoting the giveaway got nearly 200,000 views. These are numbers that McDonald's typically never reaches on social platforms.
However, social media can be friendly territory for fast food. 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--it did. 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 did not return a request for comment. Omnicom agency partner We Are Unlimited was behind the "Rick and Morty" response.