Apocalyptic scenes of abandoned cities, bodies strewn on the floor amid pools of purple gunge... if you're on TikTok, you'll have seen the aftermath of McDonald's Grimace Shake campaign last month. What began as a novelty limited-edition milkshake became a (literally) viral trend in amateur filmmaking.
It all started when one TikTokker made a video of himself trying the Grimace Shake before convulsing on the floor. Soon people around the world were creating their own takes... even professional actors like Courteney Cox. Some smelled a rat... or a Grimace. Was it really all an accident or did McDonald's plan the whole thing? Well, the man behind McDonald's social media has spoken (see our pick of the best TikTok cameras and the best ring lights to up your own TikTok game)
TikTokker Austin Frazier is credited with starting the Grimace Shake trend, which saw billions in reach and millions of mentions, becoming the top trend on Twitter and within the top 3 hashtags on TikTok for days. Guillaume Huin, McDonald's head of social media, says he's received tons of questions about the phenomenon, including from people who are convinced McDonald's knew what it was doing, but he says the brand was taken by surprise.
"If you think we planted the grimace shake trend, thank you. So much. But you think way too highly of us," he says in a tweet. "This was a level of genius creativity and organic fun that I could never dream about or plan for - it was all from the fans, and the fans only, and the initial spark came from Austin Frazier."
I have received so many questions about the Grimace Trend and how McDonald's handled it. I shared on LinkedIn but here is an insider view from the social media team of what happened :- if you think we planted the grimace shake trend, thank you. So much. But you think way too… pic.twitter.com/dMjxSu9jkDJuly 12, 2023
While Huin denies responsibility for how the Grimace shake took off, he recognises that McDonald's playful approach to social media may have helped set the tone. He says: "Our 'only responsibility' in helping the trend happen was giving the "tools" to play with, reintroducing Grimace, the shake and going all in in letting the character take over our accounts. With a particular tone of voice, attitude, 'way of typinggg' and taking badly cropped and blurry selfies."
He also reveals that McDonald's was torn about how to respond to the viral trend that took off. After all, the whole thing is a joke that centres on a suggestion that the product is lethal. "I think my very first text to the team and agencies was 'not sure we should jump in'," Huin writes in his tweet. "It took us a bit of time to process what was happening."
On the one hand, he says the campaign was already so successful, it felt like jumping in could risk jeopardising that since it could be seen as being self-serving. But, on the other hand, "saying nothing felt disconnected." Huin says that in the end "we just decided to show our fans that we see them and their creativity in a sweet, candid and genuine way, as grimace would. The same way you would respectfully and gently nod at someone, without repeating what they said to show you agree with them and stealing their thunder."
Huin also makes the same observation that we did when we initially covered the trend: some of the amateur videos have incredible levels of production and craft while also showing "peak absurdist gen Z humor". "I've seen fan art that made us send dozen of emails and texts to friends and colleagues saying 'omg did you see that'?" he says. See our pick of the best McDonald's adverts for campaigns that the brand actually planned.