McDonald’s revives defunct kids characters in throwback spot

Prepare to feel sentimental and slightly afraid with Grimace’s Birthday, an ad full of haunted imagery of axed McDonald’s marketing.

6 June 2023


The saying don’t meet your heroes tracks in the latest campaign from McDonald’s, Grimace’s Birthday. The brand is bringing back old McDonaldland characters like Grimace, Birdie and the Hamburglar for a special menu. But the accompanying 30-second promo spot, which features old photographs of pre-new millennium McDonald’s restaurants, throws up some questions, like whatever happened to kids parties at McDonald’s? And did Grimace always look this intense?

McDonald’s is hoping to invite audiences to “create new birthday memories” with the campaign, a release says. A special Grimace Birthday Meal has launched as part of a campaign, featuring a limited-edition purple shake inspired by the character’s famed purple coat.

From 12 June, an exclusive free video game, made with Krool Toys, will also be available to play. Players will be able to enter “Grimace’s world” as he races around classic McDonald’s birthday scenes to find characters like Birdie and Hamburglar.

The Grimace and Hamburglar have not been used regularly in McDonald’s marketing since the early 2000s, when the chain began phasing out kids-focused imagery as part of a brand-wide health kick. The embrace of nostalgia for McDonald’s began in force last month, when the Hamburglar appeared in promotions for recipe changes.

“Our fans have amazing childhood memories of their birthdays at McDonald’s… and Grimace’s Birthday is all about paying homage to the amazing, fun moments we all share," says Tariq Hassan, chief marketing and customer experience officer at McDonald’s USA. “We’re excited to put a modern spin on these memories to continue to drive McDonald’s relevance with a new generation. Grimace is the perfect lovable icon to have McDonald’s meet our fans at the intersection of nostalgia and culture.”

GalleryWieden+Kennedy New York: Grimace’s Birthday (Copyright © McDonald’s, 2023)

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Wieden+Kennedy New York: Grimace’s Birthday (Copyright © McDonald’s, 2023)

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Liz Gorny

Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. In January 2023, they became associate editor, predominantly working on partnership projects and contributing long-form pieces to It’s Nice That. Contact them about potential partnerships or story leads.

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