How to tactfully create an unstoppable comeback for a discontinued product? See how McDonald’s pulled it off.

▲The wildly sought after McDonald’s limited supply of Szechuan Sauce and poster.

As long as your brand has been around long enough, then you must have, in one way or another, some discontinued products that are deemed “classic or fondly missed”! If you intend to create an “unstoppable comeback” for these products, besides exerting a full-scale campaign and go on hollering, is there a more convenient and smarter way to pull it off? Maybe we could learn from the following example of McDonald’s and draw some inspiration.

Twenty years ago in 1998, McDonald’s collaborated with Disney on its animated film Mulan and released the highly popular new product in limited supply, the Szechuan Sauce, which came with McNuggets. When the promotion was over, this successful product retreated in its glory. From then on, people could only recall the deliciousness in their minds. However, what no one could have foreseen was it’d come back after 20 years because of the TV cartoon Rick and Morty, where a character’s line called back people’s memory and made them shout “Give me Szechuan sauce. I want it now!”

Rick and Morty is a time-travel Sci-fi animated comedy series. In the first episode of Season 3, Rick travels back to the past in his head and orders the long discontinued Szechuan sauce at Drive-thru. He found it super delicious. At the end of the episode, he keeps saying to Morty: “I want that Mulan McNuggets Sauce, Morty.” After the episode was aired, people started recalling that tastiness from the past, and many went online and commented that they wanted the product to “come back to life”. There was even an online petition page where a total of 38,000 votes were singed for. Moreover, some netizens even went on to create videos and write articles about “how to reproduce Szechuan Sauce”. They were coming up with everything possible to plead that McDonald’s re-supply this product.

▲More than 38,000 people signed the petition asking Szechuan sauce to be re-supplied.

Clip from the episode ending of Rick and Mortywhere Szechuan sauce is repeatedly demanded.:

What would you do in McDonald’s place?

“McDonald’s has heard the costumers’ wishes!” A half-gallon jugful of Szechuan Sauce made with the original recipe was prepared, put in a box and sent to the producer of Rick and Morty Justin Roiland. Needless to say, he was very excited, and tweeted a picture captioned “Holy shit.” McDonald’s went further to play mysterious, teasing that the three jugs of Szechuan Sauce left in 1998 were to be sent back to the present 2017. Two hours before the season’s second episode was aired in July, McDonald’s started live-streaming on Twitter, announcing the more likes, retweets or comments, the sooner these three jugs of sauce would “come back to life”.

▲Producer of the show posted on the Internet with much excitement after receiving the gift.

Indeed, fan power did not disappoint; not only did the tons of likes and retweets bring the product “back to the future”, McDonalds went on to give these three jugs of sauce each to three lucky fans. One of them sold it online. How much do you guess it was sold for? The answer was “15,000 USD (about 450,000 NTD).” The bid was won by the Canadian celebrity “Deadmau5”. He brought the sauce to his concert for the audience to eat McNuggets with while watching the concert. Just how impressive was that!

Also, McDonald’s said “We are going to release the exclusive and limited packs and posters.” But this created another reason for the fans to be quite agitated—because they simply “were unable to eat it”. The re-supply was for just one day, and as for the sauce, there was only a limited amount of 1000 (the package size was the same as the normal McNugget sauce). The supply was even limited to specific stores, and some stores only received 20 of them. Just take a look at the New York Timesreport on the long waiting line—weren’t they just asking for trouble?

▲A fan said “I drove all the way from Canada six o’clock in the morning, but it was all in vain. They wouldn’t even give me a poster.” How agitating that must be!

Clip from Taiwan’s news report:

There were some chaos during this fervor: “someone traded a tiny pack of Szechuan Sauce for a VW vehicle; another example was that three packs of dipping sauce were priced 200 USD”. Seeing how far this had gone, McDonald’s finally “followed the people’s ardent voices” and re-released the Szechuan Sauce in February (2018) across the US.

I don’t mean to wow you all with this case and share a curious article with you. My point is to introduce an interesting operation mode of “how to create an unstoppable comeback for a discontinued product” in its marketing.

Evoke past memory -> appeal -> limit product supplies -> re-stimulate demands -> official comeback

A similar tactic had actually been used a long time ago. Can’t recall? Let us revisit the “Matilda Tao finding Kris Phillips” incident. In 2000, the hugely popular Taiwanese TV show Super Sunday had a “Finding People” segment. It helped guests find people they’d long lost contact with. That year, Tao wanted to find Taiwan’s super star in the 80s Kris Phillips. The show crew flew to the US to find him and brought him back to Taiwan. That was the first time in 14 years Phillips had appeared publicly in a TV show, bringing the show its highest ratings of the year. He even beat A-mei and came in second as the “2000’s person of the year in Taiwan” and went on to release a brand new album…Wasn’t that just so much like McDonald’s tactic?

First, a trend must be created by an opinion leader to evoke fond and collective memories, making people desire that the person, experience, or product to come back again.When the trend is picking up momentum, try in a small scale first and test the market trend to see how the crowds really feel. If their desire is indeed strong, then, amid all the anticipation, officially make a huge entrance. Through this delicate manipulation, you see, as compared to simply doing re-issues, this playing-hard-to-get move and its anticipated grand entrance on stage create a much more wonderful result!

Note: The producer of Rick and Mortysaid he wasn’t involved in the McDonald’s plans. 

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