Cartoon Network’s satirical, smart Rick and Morty is huge among millennials, but an attempt by fast-food giant McDonald’s to capitalize on one of the show’s running gags appears to be backfiring.
The backstory here is appropriately absurd. Rick and Morty, co-created by Community mastermind Dan Harmon, chronicles the adventures of an alcoholic superscientist and his mostly inept grandson, mixing absurd catchphrases, fantastic alien worlds, and extremely sharp storytelling into a cocktail that’s ripe for the internet age. One of the show’s gags had Rick obsessively questing for McDonald’s Szechuan nugget sauce, a promotional flavor briefly offered in conjunction with the Disney film Mulan 20 years ago.
The show’s cultish fanbase responded en masse, starting a petition to bring back the sauce and talking it up endlessly online. McDonald’s execs hinted they might do just that, and made it official this week, saying the sauce would be available for just one day – today, October 7th – as part of a promotion for the chain’s new Buttermilk Crispy Tenders.
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But there are signs that the promotion is going south, with fans and news outlets reporting that supplies of the ironically prized sauce are running out almost instantly at the select locations where it was supposed to be available. On Twitter, some customers are claiming stores reported receiving only 20 cups of the prized sauce. Other customers are claiming stores haven’t received promised supplies at all.
Though the fast-food chain was clear that supplies would be limited, fans on social media are nonetheless extremely frustrated with the situation.
One reason for the problems can be deduced from a quick search of eBay, where cups of the sauce are already being offered for hundreds of dollars each.
McDonald’s has acknowledged customers’ frustration, but without offering any real remedy. Fortune has reached out for further comment.
A relaunch of an old McDonald’s nugget sauce might not seem like a big deal to most people, but this could turn into something serious for McDonald’s. Fans of Rick and Morty are passionate, and some mimic the show’s more acerbic elements by displaying a mean streak so broad it has included harassing the show’s own female writers. Mix that with internet savvy and a target as big as the Golden Arches, and you’ve got a recipe for spicy disaster.