Nostalgia fuels McDonald’s Forward

Published: June 07, 2023

min read

Two months after it brought the Hamburglar back, McDonald’s has brought another classic character back on the scene – Grimace, for some classic birthday nostalgia. To promote the Grimace Birthday Meal which includes a berry-flavored purple milkshake, McDonald’s has brought the 52-year-old jolly purple blob back in a new campaign in a bid to use nostalgia to connect to old and new consumers.

Grimace hails back to 1971, had four arms - one for each milkshake that the fast food chain offered. He had a gigantic belly and he shook a lot, so he was about shakes. He used to be called Evil Grimace because he was constantly trying to steal milkshakes. Grimace is said to be from Grimace Island, with a family that included his Grandma Winky, aunts Millie and Tillie, his brother King Gonga and his Irish Uncle O'Grimacey, a green version of a Grimace who is associated with McDonald’s green Shamrock Shake.

The new Grimace Birthday Meal will include a choice of a Big Mac or 10-piece McNuggets with fries, along with the purple milkshake. Along with this, McDonald’s there is a 1990s-inspired mobile and desktop game, some Grimace-themed merchandise, Grimace Snapchat filters and an ad spot with the purple mascot. This Grimace Birthday Meal will be available at participating restaurants nationwide starting June 12, while supplies last. The ad will run on TV, connected TV and paid social and shows Grimace celebrating his birthday through the years at McDonald’s which was made using archival footage.

The Grimace meal is a part of McDonald's nostalgic marketing streak. Last year, they had the adult Happy Meal partnering with streetwear brand Cactus Plant Flea Market, and had Grimace, Birdie and Hamburglar toys in the style of the streetwear brand. After this, the Hamburglar came back and told everyone that burgers would be tweaked and have “meltier cheese” and “a better sear.”

Our fans have amazing memories of the characters from over the years, and now we’re putting them back in the spotlight but in a way that’s fresh and relevant for a new generation.

JJ Healan,

VP of U.S. marketing, brand, content, and culture

The Grimace meal is a link back to memories of childhood birthday parties at a McDonald’s PlayPlace - the indoor or outdoor playgrounds in some outlets.

Part of McDonald's campaign is also building one-to-one connections with consumers through Twitter and text messaging. On Twitter, Grimace asked users to text a number, and those that did were asked to opt-in to receive McDonald's marketing messages through text messages. Then Grimace promised to send “secrets about McDonald's” to those who told him what their time zone was.

The Power of Nostalgia Marketing

Nostalgia marketing has always existed. But post-pandemic, it seems to have taken on a more precious garb. The world has just come out of a time when hanging out together and connecting socially was scarce making the memories of good times in the past, that much more special.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing - especially at a time when things are uncertain and troubled. The older generation remembers being a child and the uncomplicated times when they went to McDonald’s and celebrated the occasional birthday there. Nostalgia marketing navigates the waters of emotion and memory – where it balances the memories of the past with the importance of staying relevant in the present. When done right, it works like a charm.

Nostalgia marketing seems to be just one of the ways McDonald’s spruces up its marketing strategy. When you think about it, all the items on the menu are the same – except for a purple shake, in this instance. But just adding the Grimace layer to it, McDonald’s is able to sell its existing line of products but packaged differently. Along with a purple colored berry shake. McDonald’s is great at adding this new layer to the existing line up and increasing its sales! (Remember Cardi B and the Offset meal? Same products – just positioned differently!)

In this instance, the nostalgia with Grimace comes without any potentially hefty cost of a celebrity partnership.

The nostalgia attracts the older crowd – the millennials and the baby boomers. And the novelty of Grimace will attract the younger crowd, and help build McDonald’s character relationships with them, helping them connect to a version of the brand that their parents remember.

It might be like they are being initiated into a special generational bond. The people around the youngsters might have grown up with birthday parties at McDonald’s and Grimace’s purple magic – and now they have a chance to connect with this. They might have heard the older folk talk about it – and now is their chance to connect with it.

The campaign comes with a omni-channel spread, using all the tactics and digital channels that have been central to McDonald’s efforts in recent years.

In all, this is one of the many great campaigns that McDonald’s has been doing to keep their brand relevant to customers of all ages.


Bill Walker

Bill is a marketing strategist who believes in the power of storytelling. He's known for his creativity, wit, and ability to connect with audiences across all channels. When he's not crafting marketing campaigns, you can find him hiking in the mountains or reading a good book.


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