Sakuna glowing red with McDonalds arches overlaid

McDonald’s ‘Jujutsu Kaisen’ Collab Letdown Exposes a Glaring Marketing Issue

Ba Da Ba Ba Ba, Not Lovin' It.

Fast food restaurants and their anime tie-ins have become a trendy, interesting means of marketing now that the West has accepted anime as a core pillar of pop culture. It’s unfortunate that the McDonald’s Jujutsu Kaisen crossover is bland and underwhelming.

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Simply put, McDonald’s Jujutsu Kaisen-themed exclusive doesn’t understand its fanbase. What even is a Special Grade Garlic Sauce? The minimal effort put into this Special Grade Garlic Sauce is cheap and thoughtless. It feels as if McDonald’s had a new condiment they were preparing to launch already, and took the opportunity to capitalize on Jujutsu Kaisen‘s success through name recognition and nothing more.

Thinking about the packaging of the dipping sauces itself, the product design is unoriginal and uninteresting. While the key cast of characters is featured, McDonald’s could have easily done more than just feature the Jujutsu Kaisen logo and instructions to watch the anime on Crunchyroll atop the sauce’s peel-back lid. Those who are already invested in Jujutsu Kaisen know well where they can stream the series.

The initial teaser ad shared by McDonald’s itself on X transparently disclosed that AI was used. The honest confession that McDonald’s needed to turn to AI to generate visuals related to Jujutsu Kaisen stresses the point that the fast food chain was not prepared to plan a sincere collaboration. They do not know their audience, nor do they care to do so.

In the official press release, McDonald’s mentioned that their partnership with Jujutsu Kaisen will be taken one step further. “Catch a sneak peek of the new sauce designs as NASCAR Driver Bubba Wallace and his 23XI Racing team take on the second annual Chicago Street Race [on] Sunday, July 7. The power of Sukuna will be on full display as Bubba’s #23 Toyota Camry will be outfitted in a McDonald’s JUJUTSU KAISEN-themed paint scheme, equipped with special grade energy, Sukuna’s face and the JUJUTSU KAISEN logo.”

Who is this McDonald’s Jujutsu Kaisen crossover for, exactly, and what is the initiative of the marketing campaign? Is the Special Grade Garlic Sauce designed to promote Wallace and his King of Curses Toyota Camry? To be fair, there is some overlap between the car and anime communities, but the entirety of McDonald’s Jujutsu Kaisen sauce is too disconnected from the Jujutsu Kaisen fanbase to be justifiable. These silly little sauce packets hitting the menu around the same as NASCAR Chicago Street Race further supports the idea that this entire McDonald’s Jujutsu Kaisen crossover better serves NASCAR and McDonald’s than anime fans.

This isn’t even the first time that McDonald’s has set its sights on anime culture through exclusive promotions. In early 2024, the fictional WcDonald’s was pulled into reality through WcNuggets, a WcDonald’s cup, and a savory chili WcDonald’s sauce. In a press release for the WcDonald’s promotion, Chief Marketing and Customer Experience Officer of McDonald’s USA Tariq Hassan said “anime is a huge part of today’s culture, and we love that our fans have been inviting us into the conversation for years.”

Maybe they have, but at the same time, fans are asking brands to incorporate their favorite franchises through crossovers that actually align with wants or needs. Outside of the name and the packaging, the Special Grade Garlic Sauce holds no significance in the Jujutsu Kaisen universe. It exists for the sake of McDonald’s appealing to fans through visual marketing. Maybe KFC should have stepped in to carry this collaboration instead.

McDonald’s clumsiness with Jujutsu Kaisen caused them to miss out on a truly exciting exclusive crossover while keeping Jujutsu Kaisen at the promotion’s forefront. Some fans had expressed enthusiasm around a rumored McDonald’s Jujutsu Kaisen Happy Meal, and it’s unreasonably frustrating (if not embarrassing) that the chain restaurant opted to neglect a Jujutsu Kaisen-themed box. The Sanrio X Yu-Gi-Oh! Happy Meal is an excellent example of how McDonald’s can directly demand the attention of multiple fandoms while luring them into the dining room of their local eatery.

Just the idea of McDonald’s failing to tackle the concept of a theoretical Jujutsu Kaisen Happy Meal is disappointing. One TikTok featuring a fan-made Jujutsu Kaisen Happy Meal reveals an absolutely adorable Yuji Itadori plush toy that looks far too sweet to not “oppappi!” out of the box itself. Look, McDonald’s, fans are directly telling you what they’d anticipate or expect from a hypothetical Happy Meal. They’re essentially pitching a prototype or concept for you, so what’s holding you back fully? There’s a reason your mascot is a clown.

The greater annoyance with the McDonald’s Jujutsu Kaisen Special Grace Garlic Sauce, and now the NASCAR car design, is that the title’s impact on pop culture has been condensed down to a split-second marketing gimmick. It’s not a purposeless collaboration, but the purpose that it fills doesn’t accurately reflect how remarkable Jujutsu Kaisen has become in the entertainment industry. The misunderstanding of how outstanding Jujutsu Kaisen’s reputation has become has distanced McDonald’s relationship with their target market. They’ve reached their target market to an extent, but the lack of awareness of how to fully interact with Jujustu Kaisen in an authentic manner mishandles its importance to the fans.

Sorry to say, McDonald’s, that there’s really nothing special about your Special Grade Garlic Sauce.

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Annie Banks
Annie Banks is a professional entertainment journalist from Chicago, Illinois. She holds degrees in journalism and marketing, and has been incredibly fortunate to watch her career path collide with her passions. Throughout her six years of entertainment journalism experience, Annie has fervently written about movies, television shows, anime, manga, K-Pop, comics and video games. To this day, she still proudly retains her title as a Rotten Tomatoes-approved Tomatometer critic.