The strange tale of how a cartoon prompted McDonald’s to bring back a sauce it discontinued in 1998

For those of you that haven’t seen the widely popular Adult Swim series Rick and Morty, this story is going to seem a little strange.

For fans of the show, McDonald’s recently announced decision to bring back its long dead Szechuan dipping sauce is a victory in keeping with the oddball nature of cartoon.

Rick and Morty follows the dimension-hopping, sci-fi adventures of the titular teenage Morty and his grandfather Rick, a man so smart that he is able to travel through the infinite realities of the multiverse.

The show has won over legions of fans by combining grandiose sci-fi fantasy with a very real focus on the psychology of how being related the universe’s smartest man in the universe effects a teenage boy and his family.

How does this relate to McDonald’s deciding to bring back (for one day only) the sauce it released to promote the 1998 Disney movie Mulan, and discontinued shortly afterwards?

Well, it all began with the season three premiere in April of this year.

A joke that got out of hand

The first episode of the new series featured an extended flashback in which the Szechuan sauce was a recurring time-period related joke. The episode also ended with a bizarre rant in which the sauce was brought up multiple times.

If you don’t mind spoilers regarding the wider plot of the show, you can see that rant here.

What was meant to be a throwaway insight into a character soon began to take on a life of its own, as fans and the official Rick and Morty social media accounts began to flood the fast food giant’s pages with requests to bring the sauce back. YouTubers also began to get in on the act, with many trying to capitalise on the buzz around the forgotten condiment (the video in the link has been watched 3.7 million times!).

There was even a petition to bring back the sauce, which was signed by over 29,000 people within five days of the episode airing.  

The restaurant chain offered some of the limited-edition leftovers to the show’s creators and a few select fans, one of which made a cool $15,000 when they sold it online.

The whole story is a particularly unique example of the power of fandom and social media, and could point the way for brands to try and capitalise on the success of niche target audiences in the future.

The sauce will only be available for a limited amount of time on Saturday 7 October 2017

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