If ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This is surely the motto the McDonald’s marketing team chooses to live by, because the brand has spent the past year appealing to millennials with a full-court nostalgia play—a strategy that has continued to pay off again and again. Today, in keeping with that playbook, McDonald’s announced a new collaboration that will see the return of the McNugget Buddies, another beloved character from the retro McDonald’s canon.
This new adult Happy Meal launch is a collaboration between McDonald’s and New York artist Kerwin Frost. The Kerwin Frost Box includes your choice of a 10-piece Chicken McNuggets or a Big Mac, plus fries, a soft drink, and, most importantly, a McNugget Buddy collectible. The Kerwin Frost Box & McNugget Buddy Collectibles will be available in the U.S. and other select markets starting December 11.
The McNugget Buddies were originally introduced in 1988, and they’re essentially just anthropomorphic nuggets with googly eyes and cartoonish personalities. They made various appearances over the years in both TV ad spots and as Happy Meal toys. CNBC notes they were featured in McDonald’s Canada comics and took the form of “Sports Buddies” in the UK, Japan, and Singapore in 1992. In 1996, they rolled out in the U.S. as a Halloween Happy Meal promotion, each with its own Halloween costume that could be swapped in and out.
After more than 25 years, the McNugget Buddies are back with similar features, but a brand-new wardrobe and theme. Like their predecessors, the new McNugget Buddies come with mix-and-match outfits, but each of the new little nugget toys has its own character name and background inspired by Frost’s childhood. The press release details the bio of each character in the lineup:
- Kerwin Frost – The Mayor of Frost Way is a true champion of the Buddies and encourages them to be themselves. In his free time, catch him adding art to his collection or fixing things around the neighborhood.
- Don Bernice – The Wise Stylist, an experienced fashion designer who creates all the outfits for the Buddies in Frost Way, while also offering stern advice (that’s always nice!). After all, she is “don” – the very best!
- Uptown Moe – The Neighborhood Hero, the no-nonsense, street-smart, supportive guy from around the block in Frost Way everyone knows and loves. He also gives the best motivational speeches on a whim.
- Waffutu – The Curious Optimist, who grew up in Frost Way and was raised by the whole neighborhood. She spreads positivity wherever she goes and can turn any frown upside down with the wave of a wand and tilt of a crown.
- BRRRICK – The Cool Guy, the most adventurous Buddy in Frost Way who speaks in puns, loves trying new things and techno music. He’s lowkey nervous, but always cool under pressure.
- Darla – The Dreamer, a soft-spoken yet peacefully confident singer who moved to Frost Way to pursue her dream of becoming a superstar as the lead singer of “The Frostettos.” When she’s not on stage, she’s running the local McDonald’s in Frost Way – where she’s employee of the month every month!
McDonald’s has made a habit of resurrecting old mascots with a new spin to spark connections with both older and younger customers. The burger chain’s first nostalgia jolt came in 2022 when it released the Cactus Plant Flea Market Boxes (a.k.a. $12 Adult Happy Meals). The meals featured old McDonaldland characters such as Birdie, Hamburglar, and Grimace, but gave them each four eyes and a modern flair to match the aesthetic of CPFM. The meal boxes were such a hit that they not only created a frenzy in restaurants but also ended up on the secondary market selling for big bucks.
In fact, these new McNugget Buddies even have a bit of an Easter egg referencing the Cactus Plant Flea Market figurines. See how Waffutu is holding a teeny Happy Meal–sized version of the Cactus Buddy character in the image above?
In another nostalgia-targeting effort, McDonald’s chose to celebrate Grimace’s birthday with a purple shake offering earlier this year and found success with that, too—but in an unexpected way. TikTok users began using the shake in short horror film-style videos that start off as innocent taste test videos and end in purple carnage. Despite the jump scares, McDonald’s had no problem with the viral trend and even posted its own response from Grimace himself, who was happy, at least, that people were trying his birthday shake.
McDonald’s is unique from other fast food chains in that it has a storied history of beloved mascots and characters from which it can continually mine new promotions. Competitors in the fast food industry, even those with recognizable mascots, have largely shifted away from character-based advertising and taken a more general “lifestyle” approach to marketing. Burger King’s “King,” for example, was everywhere in the early 2000s, but the brand has since shifted its focus away from the King and toward the Whopper itself, highlighting BK’s most iconic menu item with a new slogan and infectious jingle.
Heading into 2024, McDonald’s doesn’t appear to be straying from its nostalgic formula. The company is poised to open an entirely new restaurant concept in select test markets next year called CosMc’s, based on a lesser-known alien figure who occasionally got up to hijinks in McDonaldland back in the ’80s. Maybe we’ll see some sort of Mayor McCheese homage next?