McDonald’s Szechuan sauce is (sort of) back thanks to a cartoon rant, a whole lot of fans and one inspired chef. On April 1, after a two-year hiatus, Adult Swim surprised fans with the Season 3 premiere of its hit cartoon show Rick and Morty. Looping for four hours, the surprise stream pulled in three million unique viewers.

The show is a hit, especially among millennials, because of its twisted sense of humor and pop culture references. Audiences latched onto Rick’s drunken rant on the show about Szechuan sauce—offered for a limited time in 1998 to promote Disney’s Mulan.

“I’m not driven by avenging my dead family,” Rick says in the episode. “I’m driven by finding that McNugget sauce. I want that Mulan McNugget Sauce. That’s my series arc, Morty. If it takes nine seasons, I want that McNugget Szechuan sauce.”

Fans took to social media with Rick’s fictional cause, starting very real petitions and asking—nay, demanding—that McDonald’s bring the sauce back. The official Rick and Morty Twitter account challenged the brand to play along, to which it responded with a McNugget version of the show’s catchphrase, “Wubba lubba dub dub.”

The exchange caught the attention of McDonald’s corporate chef, Mike Haracz, who also happens to be an avid Rick and Morty fan. He tweeted, “I’ll see what I can do.” And see he did. After mailing Roiland a specially-packaged jug of Szechuan sauce, McDonald’s began tweeting images of Rick’s most-coveted dipping sauce, teasing a possible comeback. Three jugs were given away on Twitter—one of which ended up with former AListDaily contributer Robert Workman, whose subsequent bidding war made more than a few waves online.

On Sunday, McDonald’s officially announced the return of Szechuan sauce for one day only, as part of its buttermilk crispy tenders promotion. Each of the featured sauces received their own collectible poster and specially marked packaging for the occasion. Not surprisingly, the poster for Szechuan sauce has a distinct Rick and Morty aesthetic.

The sauce may not be back for good, but McDonald’s embraced its place in pop culture to be part of the story. We calculated the earned media value from posts about Szechuan sauce over the past 12 months ending October 1.

“Earned media” is the value of engagements a brand receives across channels as a result of their marketing efforts. To help quantify what the value of those engagements is worth, the Ayzenberg Group established the Ayzenberg Earned Media Value Index (AEMVI) and assigned a quantifiable dollar amount for marketing gains a brand receives from a campaign or individual engagement that includes social media networks and similar digital properties. (Editor’s note: AListDaily is the publishing arm of Ayzenberg Group. To read the updated AEMVI report reflecting the rapid changes in social, click here.)

Over the past year, the phrase “Szechuan sauce” has been mentioned 85,154 times on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. While the elusive condiment was mentioned over a thousand times on Facebook—mostly on McDonald’s or Adult Swim’s walls—Twitter was where the trend really took shape.

The official McDonald’s Twitter account created an interactive community around the request, responding to fans. Since the October 7 engagement was announced, Justin Roiland helped drive over 11,000 tweets about Szechuan sauce.

On Instagram, fans have anticipated the sauce’s return, while others paired the hashtag #RickandMorty and #SzechuanSauce together to share playful cosplay costumes, reactional memes, or videos.

Learn everything you need to know about turning insights into data at AList Sessions, a new invite-only event series for marketers, on October 26 in Los Angeles.

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