Witch? More like sandwich. McDonald’s is ringing in spooky season as the seasons grow colder with the announcement of its McRib rising from the ashes like some kind of pork phoenix. Much like the eternal zombie, the pork sandwich is back from the dead, and consumers are clamoring to get their hands on menu item.
McDonald’s announced on Saturday it was bringing the McRib back to select chain locations for a limited time on November 1. The fast food chain is known for utilizing a scarcity tactic to keep customers coming back to the cult classic sandwich, having sunsetted the menu item at least four times, only for it to return time and time again. In its 40-year history, the elusive McRib has been the star of numerous viral pop culture moments, like a parody in a 2003 episode of The Simpsons and the dawn of the McRib Locator in 2008.
“The McRib is the GOAT of sandwiches on our menu. And so like the GOATs Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, and others, you’re never sure if they’re fully retired or not,” McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski told Restaurant Business, a trade publication, last year during the sandwich’s most recent “farewell tour.”
But fans might have a difficult time finding the seasoned, barbecue-slathered pork sandwich: “While it won’t be available nationwide, some lucky fans may find their favorite elusive saucy sandwich at their local McDonald’s restaurants this November,” McDonald’s said in a statement to MarketWatch on Wednesday.
That is part of the gimmick, of course. The McRib is hard to find and never around for long. Why? McDonald’s wants customers to “enjoy our famous pork sandwich as if it’s your last,” the promotional materials from the 2022 farewell tour read. This helped McDonald’s to a win earlier this year, when it reported fourth quarter same-store sales of 12.6%, beating Wall Street expectations of 8.8%. The McRib can’t stay dead because it’s big business.
While the McRib seems to latch onto the zeitgeist in every iteration, another factor behind a recent sales boost was a dark and bizarre social media trend involving another undead feature of the brand—the previously retired purple mascot named Grimace.
In June, McDonald’s debuted a vanilla-berry flavored milkshake in honor of the 52nd birthday of Grimace, a giant, purple thing introduced in 1971 as “The Evil Grimace,” stealing milkshakes from unsuspecting customers. TikTokers would film videos of themselves wishing the mascot a happy birthday and taking a sip of the shake, before pretending to writhe in agony and suffer gruesome fake deaths in horror-movie fashion. The tag #grimaceshake has over 3.7 billion views on TikTok.
However, much like the McRib Locator, McDonald’s says it didn’t plant the trend. The company’s social media director, Guillaume Huin, said as much in a LinkedIn post, crediting the success to the “brilliant creativity, unfiltered fun, peak absurdist Gen Z humor” and “the way a new generation of creators and consumers play with brands.”
“If you think we planted the Grimace shake trend, thank you. So much. But you think way too highly of us,” Huin wrote.
McDonalds’ usual play is more that of the McRib style layup than the Grimace shake one-off. The company seemingly found its marketing gold by luring in consumers with limited offers. Sure, the McRib has come and gone a couple times now reading more like an extended Walking Dead-type of zombified run than a short but intense outbreak. But who’s to say pork isn’t on the menu again next Hallows Eve? The guessing keeps the game going.