McDonald’s didn’t plant the Grimace Shake trend — and it almost didn’t respond

—A McDonald’s social media director shared an inside look at how the company managed the purple blob craze—

By Ewan Larkin

Over the past few weeks, thousands of consumers have posted elaborate videos on social media pretending to be poisoned after drinking McDonald’s Grimace Shake. But, to the surprise of many, the fast-food giant didn’t have a hand in launching the viral trend.

Guillaume Huin, social media director for brand content and engagement at McDonald’s U.S., shared a LinkedIn post on Wednesday detailing an “insider view” of how the company managed the online frenzy.

“If you think we planted the Grimace Shake trend, thank you. So much. But you think way too highly of us. 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,” he said.

Frazier, a freelance social media manager and copywriter, was the first to post about having a “fatal” reaction to the Grimace Shake (which was not available in Canada). He sparked a trend that has garnered over 2.5 billion views on TikTok and generated “billions in reach, millions in engagements and millions of mentions,” according to Huin.

McDonald’s was initially hesitant to respond to the trend as the campaign was already “wildly successful” from a social and business standpoint, making it risky to jump in, Huin said. But after hours of watching videos, reading comments and being amazed by “peak absurdist Gen Z humor,” the company decided to get involved.

“Saying nothing felt disconnected [and] encouraging it felt self-serving, so we just decided to show our fans that we see them and their creativity in a sweet, candid and genuine way, as Grimace would,” Huin added.

The fast-food chain ultimately allowed Grimace to take over its social media accounts, giving him a silly, almost childlike tone of voice and attitude, punctuated by badly cropped and blurry selfies.

Huin said McDonald’s “only responsibility” in helping the trend happen was giving consumers the “tools” to play with, reintroducing Grimace and going “all in” on letting the character take over its accounts. He also thanked McDonald’s leadership, PR and legal teams for their openness throughout the campaign.

“Was there a lot of questions, sentiment analysis tools, listening dashboards and emails? More than I can count. Was there doubt? Immense doubt. Did we still move forward and get full support up to our top leadership? Sure did,” he added.

The Grimace Shake and an accompanying meal launched on the character’s birthday, June 12. It’s unclear if the products are still available, but reports suggest that the campaign ended last week.

Responding to questions about the shake’s availability last week, McDonald’s tweeted, “The Grimace’s Birthday Meal is available for a limited time at participating restaurants, while supplies last.”

A McDonald’s spokesperson could not be immediately reached for further comment.

This story first appeared on PRWeek US.