Rick and Morty in advertising

Rick and Morty is an animated series that follows a scientist Grandfather and his Grandson as they go on a wildly diverse series of sci-fi adventures… but why am I telling you this? Well, in addition to having a multitude of Emmys and other awards they’re also Don Draper level advertisers, having done ads for PlayStation, Wendy’s, Old Spice, McDonalds and many more. So in this article I want to cover some of the ads Rick and Morty have created, and look into why brands are doing it, so let’s get into it.

One of the first examples of Rick and Morty working with brands was in the leadup to their third season, to advertise this they worked with a number of video games such as Rocket League, Move or Die and Gang Beasts. They featured in-game items from the show and as expected drew a lot of attention and hyped up the fans. You can see this being done more and more by brands such as Star Wars and Marvel collaborating with Fortnite to drum up excitement. I wonder if more consumer brands will explore this as time goes on, but that’s an article for another day.

Next came the big one… are you ready? Szechuan sauce. I’m going to keep this as brief as possible but originally Szechuan sauce was a promotional sauce from McDonalds to coincide with the Mulan movie in 1998. Many years later it’s referenced in Rick & Morty as Rick’s favourite sauce that he’s kind of obsessed with and that brings us to 2017, when McDonalds re-released the fabled sauce as a Rick and Morty promotion, and people went wild. Sauce very quickly ran out and the fans were not happy driving them to a kind of sauce madness if you will. Here’s a video of police having to hold people back as they chant “We want sauce!”.

https://twitter.com/slomobo/status/916809543618719744?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E916809543618719744%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_c10&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bbc.co.uk%2Fnews%2Fworld-us-canada-41543636

One couple even travelled from Canada to the States to try and get their hands on the sauce… and failed. After this the packets of the sauce were being sold on Ebay for hundreds of dollars. This shows just how massive the reach of the Rick and Morty brand is and how dedicated a large number of its fanbase are. This stunt brought an avalanche of attention to Rick and Morty and McDonalds, which raises the question, was this little amount of sauce given to the stores on purpose? In order to create scarcity and buzz bringing even more attention than a normal brand collaboration would do? Well it’s never been confirmed so I’ll leave that for you to decide.

After the chaos that was Szechuan sauce the ads moved from the real world into the world of the show. Old Spice’s ad came and it’s great, just like the show it’s super meta with Morty asking why Rick keeps selling them out as personified deodorants mess up Morty’s room, Rick is literally reading a description of the products off a script. It’s fantastic as it feels like it could be part of the show but at the same time you’re being told all the details of the product. 

After the sauce heat died down Rick and Morty took a step back into the real world with their Pringles Super Bowl ad. Once again it’s super meta where it’s revealed that the characters have been taken in their sleep and they’re trapped in an ad, Morty even being replaced with a life-like robot that just wants people to stack and eat pringles. It’s pretty dark for an ad but so is Rick and Morty at times so the fact they didn’t sugar coat it and kept it in line with the show is great. If an idea like this was pitched to Pringles without the Rick and Morty brand behind it I don’t think they would’ve taken this risk.

This was released alongside Rick and Morty themed Pringles that flew off shelves, however this time the launch went smoothly.

Another Super Bowl ad Rick and Morty starred in, yes there’s more than one, is for PlayStation 5. Like their Old Spice ad it managed to be funny and engaging while listing all the product features and benefits which is one way to make a fantastic ad. In it we see Rick sitting counting all the money he was paid for the ad while Morty lists off all the product features and benefits. 

The last thing I want to talk about is Wendy’s, there have been several ads from Rick and Morty in which the titular two are chased by Wendy’s breakfast foods because they don’t want to do an ad for them with the tagline “Get Wendy’s breakfast before Wendy’s breakfast gets you”. I really like these ads just because of how different they are from what you usually see. 

However the main point about Wendy’s I wanted to talk about was their recent PR stunt at one of their restaurants in California where they turned their drive-thru into an immersive experience with themed drinks and unique branding. This was done for the launch of the fifth season and had 7 hour wait times for a tunnel lined with huge LED screens that featured exclusive animations as well as a unique themed radio station for drivers to tune into. It ended with a free photo and digital sticker. This was really interesting to me as COVID is still a thing I wonder if we’ll be seeing more driver-thru style experiences. This one was clearly very popular so it will be interesting to see if more brands start considering this route for PR activation. 

In conclusion I think Rick and Morty have created some amazing ads and experiences, the cultural impact they’ve had in a relatively short amount of time is undeniable and I’m sure this isn’t the last of them we’ll see in ad land. I wonder if this edgy and meta style of advertising will grow in popularity and more brands will test it out, if I’m being honest some brands I would love to see Rick and Morty advertise would be a large corporate brand to see how they’d bring it to life, and a luxury brand, to see how their style would sell the product. Still, can’t wait to see what they do next.

Written by Travis Usher

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