This past summer was an extremely memorable one when it comes to movie releases and Internet trends. Hits such as “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” restored the box office to pre-pandemic numbers with the films grossing almost $1 billion in domestic revenue combined. Explosive TikTok trends centered around the McDonald’s “Grimace Shake” bolstered revenue for the fast food giant, driving Q2 same-store sales to grow an impressive 11.7%. 

That being said, both the Barbenheimer boom and Grimace Shake gains were not accidental — each summer sellout used tactical marketing strategies that can be analyzed and applied for the benefit of the broader business market. 

The start of this tactical decision-making begins with each campaign’s target audience. The primary audience for all three summer hits (although two different mediums) was the Millennial market and Gen-Z. Over 8% of Grimace Shake customers came from Gen-Z households, marking a more than 30% increase compared to Gen-Z buyers of other shakes and ice cream items at McDonald’s. What is even more striking is that 91.5% of “Barbie” viewers and 73.9% of “Oppenheimer” viewers were also in the age ranges of Gen-Z to Millennial. 

To achieve this wide reach, the “Barbie” team dedicated an exceptional amount to marketing, spending 150 million and spanning 800 partnerships. “Oppenheimer” continually dropped announcements of their cast members as the preview date approached to excite fans. 

Unlike “Barbie”, McDonald’s started the Grimace Shake campaign by posting a single ominous post on Instagram captioned, “It’s Grimace I’m taking over”. From there, users on social media platforms ran with the vaguely-launched campaign and garnered millions of views for McDonald’s organically. The Grimace campaign became a challenge for Gen-Z consumers: buy the limited-edition drink, film with it, and post it online. 


Gen-Z and Millennial generations generate sweet spots for companies to take advantage of due to a newer phenomenon called “the experience economy”. The experience economy can be described as the sale of memorable experiences to consumers. Snapchat and Instagram stories enable users to share a continuous flow of life experiences, seamlessly blending everyday moments for polished, performance-based content. 

The Grimace Shake TikTok trend perfectly aligned with the experience economy motif, making what would be a normal trip to McDonald’s an “adventure”. Consumers also posted themselves on platforms going to the “Barbie” movie dressed up in all pink with their mothers and sisters to celebrate (making it more than just an average watch party). 

The Barbenheimer and Grimace Shake frenzies show that we are entering a new age where customers want a product coupled with an event. To harness the experience economy correctly, user-approval and advocacy should be taken as priority to propel word-of-mouth marketing. If properly done, companies can reap the benefits of organic growth and increased customer loyalty. 

Tagline: “Gen-Zenomics” written by Zoe Lynn analyzes digitally-native trends in reference to and for the benefit of the broader business market.