Why Grimace Is on a Rampage

David Deal
3 min readJun 30, 2023

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The Grimace shake is wreaking havoc, and McDonald’s couldn’t be happier.

Grimace is at the center of one of the hottest (and hilarious) memes taking TikTok by storm. McDonald’s recently launched the Grimace Birthday Meal to celebrate the 52nd birthday of Grimace, a character McDonald’s created in the pre-Internet days of yore to distract families from the reality that they were eating unhealthy fast food. Grimace is a purple monster that was originally an antagonist that stole beverages and shakes from customers.

The meal features a purple Grimace shake. Like, deep purple. The purple is so vivid that TikTok nation can’t resist having some fun with it. TikTokers are filming themselves taking sips of the Grimace shake and then cutting to scenes depicting themselves dying a horrible death at the hands of Grimace, invariably covered in the goeey shake, as if in a crime scene.

Some of the videos are masterpieces. I just watched a family of five take sips of the shake, wish Grimace a happy birthday, and end up annihilated in their backyard before the clip cut to a scene of Grimace emerging from the closet to terrorize the viewer. It’s a brilliant send-up of the genre of found-footage horror movies such as “Paranormal Activity.” Hats off to you, Anderson Family.

The clips are invariably gory, with victims found dead in trees, car trunks, bathtubs — anywhere to maximize the visual impact. The best of the videos are conceived and shot with the skill that would leave a lot of seasoned ad creative directors in the dust.

I suppose you could read all kinds of deeper social meanings into the Grimace shake trend. My takeaways from a marketing perspective:

1. This is an example of unintended consequences rearing their head. Before the TikTok trend hit, McDonald’s told Ad Age the company was leaning into nostalgia with the Grimace Birthday Meal. But 52 years ago there was no TikTok. No internet. No mobile phones with cameras and videos. Grimace was introduced in a completely different cultural context. Grimace re-emerged to a generation with zero frame of reference. Thus, TikTokers are re-contextualizing Grimace however they want. The trend feels authentic because it is. Everyday people are simply reacting to the appearance of a weird purple shake and sketchy character from yesteryear.

2. McDonald’s is responding well — mostly by staying out of the way, watching the cash registers ring, and enjoying the free advertising. #Grimace has accumulated 1 billion views on TikTok as of this writing, and #GrimaceShake, nearly 900 million views. The company’s response has been lighthearted: posting on its socials a photo of Grimace with the caption, “meee pretending i don’t see the grimace shake trendd.” McDonald’s knows it has struck gold by accident.

If you want to get a glimpse of the content creators calling the shots today and tomorrow, check it out.

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