What’s purple, spherical-shaped, huggable, and defies definition? Grimace, of course. One of the many McDonald’s characters, Grimace is probably the least known of the Golden Arches’ mascots but also the one who spawns the most debate when it comes to identifying what he represents. Ronald McDonald, Mayor McCheese, Birdie the Early Bird, and the thieving Hamburglar are more clearly defined. Even Mac Tonight and the Fry Kids are more readily recognized, at least by the young McDonald’s audience. “Whether he’s a taste bud, a milkshake or just your favorite purple blob – the best part about Grimace is that he means different things to different people,” according to a McDonald’s spokesperson. “Whatever he is, we’re just proud our bestie makes people happy.”
Grimace’s reputation has gone through a number of changes since it was introduced in 1972, as The Evil Grimace sporting four arms and an annoying personality. He scared the hamburger King so much that a rewrite of his character was required to give him a more lovable and soft personality. “We changed him to a soft, plush, two-armed blob of a sweetheart who only wanted McDonald’s milkshakes and to hang out with Ronald,” says his publicist.
Recently, for his 52nd birthday, McDonald’s introduced a special menu item to celebrate the Purple-one’s milestone. Grimace’s Birthday Meal included a limited-edition purple milkshake, the choice of a Big Mac or 10-piece Chicken McNuggets, and fries. While McDonald’s frequently features one or more of its stable of mascots in special marketing campaigns, the lesser-known Grimace has been a bit underutilized in the past.
The leading fast-food casual restaurant has not been totally unaffected by the impact of a suffering economy and the negative effects of rising inflation. Restaurant franchisees are experiencing lower spending in a key market segment. But the Grimace campaign appears to have surprised even the restaurant chain’s bevy of marketers. Global same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, were expected to deliver just a 9.4 percent rise in the April to June time period this year, but thanks to the Grimace campaign roll-out, performance surpassed estimates ending up at 12 percent. The usual supporting character managed to achieve star status with his purple milkshake performance. Even some veteran promoters are predicting that the Grimace’s starring role could top all other mascots’ past efforts.
A TikTok video showing a teen drinking a purple milkshake and then disappearing in a milkshake explosion received more than 5 million likes. “Grimace has been everywhere the past few months. All over the news, and more than 3 billion views on TikTok,” CEO Chris Kempczinski said. McDonald’s revenue rose 14% to $6.5 billion so far and net income nearly doubled to $2.3 billion for the quarter. “The Grimace Shake was the top trend on Twitter for eight days and it was in the top three hashtags on TikTok.”
In a time of so much bad news permeating from all channels across the country, it would appear as though the public was hungry for some good news for once. McDonald’s says it did not anticipate the overwhelming response from the light-hearted campaign and credits consumers for its success. But that may not be the only reason for the award-winning performance.
Nostalgia is a powerful marketing tool and is nothing new, particularly in challenging economic times. Looking back to perceived easier times has routinely found favor among consumers who often gain relief from feelings of anxiety and social instability. The truth is that the ragged edges of any period in history are often softened by the passing of time, a fact that peddlers of all things from music to milkshakes artfully tap into every few years in hopes of revitalizing sagging sales or polishing a tarnished brand. It is a powerful ploy that often works, at least for a while.