McDonald’s double dips on nostalgia with ‘Farewell Tour’ for McRib

McDonald’s double dips on nostalgia with ‘Farewell Tour’ for McRib

Dive Brief:

  • McDonald’s USA is kicking off a “Farewell Tour” for the McRib while stopping short of saying the menu item will officially be discontinued, according to a company announcement.  
  • The limited-run sandwich, which has played a role in the chain’s fall promotional strategy for the past three years, returns to stores Oct. 31. The latest go-around is accompanied by commemorative merchandise drawing on the history of the offering first conceived in 1980. 
  • Throwback goodies priced as low as 99 cents will be available through McDonald’s e-commerce shop starting Nov. 4 at 11 a.m. ET. This is the latest marketing play from the Golden Arches owner that leans heavily into nostalgia, a tactic that might resonate as consumers seek a distraction from current affairs.  

Dive Insight:

Fear not, boneless pork sandwich lovers: McDonald’s’ carefully worded announcement indicates this might not actually be the McRib’s final bow. Rather, it’s possible the fast food giant is taking time to reformulate the marketing strategy behind the product with a fervent cult following. Also of note is that the return is slated for Halloween, a holiday where brands frequently run stunts to psych consumers out.  

“Like any true farewell tour, we’re hoping this isn’t a ‘goodbye’ but a ‘see you later,’” the announcement reads. “Because as our McRib stans have experienced time and time again: you never know when — or if — the McRib is coming back.”

The limited-time menu item has been resurrected infrequently across the four decades since its inception, though it found a more regular place in the rotation in recent years as a seasonal offering. That ultimately might’ve watered down some of its surprise appeal. Greater regularity for the McRib also might reflect an acceleration of the marketing hype cycle, where brand drops are quick to generate excitement through channels like social media but see interest wane faster than in the days when word of mouth led the way. 

Regardless of whether or not this is a true adieu for the McRib, the campaign neatly squares with McDonald’s current emphasis on nostalgia. The tactic seems to be resonating as consumers seek escapism amid an economic rough patch.  

The restaurant in September teamed with Cactus Plant Flea Market, an under-the-radar streetwear label, to release Happy Meals targeted at adults, with an accompanying line of merchandise. The menu items invoking fond childhood memories proved popular enough to overwhelm some employees, according to news reports. Then, just weeks later, the brand brought back “Boo Buckets,” plastic pails meant to double as trick-or-treat containers that were first introduced in the mid-80s.  

The McRib “Farewell Tour” carries a similar theme, including a greatest hits merchandise line featuring art, clothing and memorabilia inspired by the sandwich’s history. McDonald’s on its website detailed some standout moments from the timeline, like the rollout of the McRib Jr. in 2003 and a fan-created McRib Locator from 2008 that tracked where the meal was available. 

The brand also referenced last year’s iteration of the promotion, which centered on a small drop of McRib nonfungible tokens (NFTs) that let consumers keep a permanent piece of digital memorabilia commemorating an otherwise impermanent menu item. Not mentioned is a controversy that arose regarding a racial slur inscribed on the blockchain used to transact the collection, a situation that was difficult to rectify given the immutable nature of the technology.

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