Huge news for fans of McDonald’s: The fast-food giant has brought back its Shamrock Shake, which hasn’t been offered in its restaurants for three years.
The iconic shake is back, as of Wednesday, to mark the 50th anniversary of its launch. And now there are two ways to enjoy the treat: One is the classic Shamrock Shake, which features vanilla soft serve, combined with Shamrock (mint) flavor and a whipped topping. The other is a new Oreo Shamrock McFlurry, which features your classic Shamrock Shake base, blended with Oreo pieces.
Others have already started begging McDonald’s to keep the shake in stores year-round. “Can’t you just keep it on the menu forever please,” one wrote on Twitter. But McDonald’s made it pretty clear in the response that the limited edition nature of the treat is to keep up the hype. “Part of what makes our legendary Shamrock Shake magical is the anticipation. We’re proud to give customers feel-good moments and another reason to look forward to spring with the annual arrival of the Shamrock Shake,” the official McDonald’s Twitter account wrote.
McDonald’s is hardly the first company to use a seasonal roll-out of a product to stir up nostalgia—and sales. Starbucks, for example, releases its pumpkin-spice latte each fall for a limited time with a lot of hype. Some companies have even recently revived older products, like Planter’s Cheez Balls and General Mills’ Galactic Fruit Gushers, to great fanfare.
What’s going on here?
“Humans are very sensitive to losses, and we don’t notice we've lost something until we've enjoyed it and then it disappears,” Adam Alter, PhD, an associate professor of marketing at the NYU Stern School of Business and author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “This is the origin of nostalgia and longing, and a cult product that disappears and then reappears scratches the itch that arises when we've lost something we enjoyed.”
The fact that the Shamrock Shake is 50 years old also means that it’s part of many childhood memories, Gail Saltz, MD, an associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of medicine and host of the upcoming “Personology” podcast from iHeart Radio, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Childhood memories are imbued with a more magical quality and associations to fun times, carefree times and feeling nurtured,” she says. If you enjoyed the Shamrock Shake as a child, those feelings you had when you had the shake during those younger years “stay attached to the product,” Saltz says.
Companies that release a product, only to take it away, also tap into a “forbidden fruit phenomenon,” which is where people love to be able to get something that has been denied to them, licensed clinical psychologist John Mayer, PhD, author of Family Fit: Find Your Balance in Life, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “This is seductive at a very primitive level of our psyche.”
It’s even better when companies can tie this into the soothing effect of comfort foods, Mayer says. “That is a strong dynamic: These items remind us of our comfortable childhood experiences,” he says.
It can seem like McDonald’s might make more money if they just offered their Shamrock Shake all the time, but Alter says that’s not always the case. “You might assume that a company that makes its products more available will sell more of those products, but sometimes restricting supply is the best way to drive sales,” he says.
Ultimately, making products scarce is a great marketing strategy. And, Saltz says, if the Shamrock Shake was available all the time, it’s unlikely people would be as into it as they are right now. “Over time, continuing to have the shake with no associated memories could diminish the [childhood] associations,” she says. “But by taking it away, you bring it back, and it still has those memories.”
McDonald’s hasn’t shared how long the Shamrock Shake will be in restaurants but, if history is any indication, it’s likely here to stay through the end of March.
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