Elon Musk Offered to Eat a Happy Meal on TV. McDonald’s Response Was Perfect

What do you do when the world’s richest man tweets at your brand?

That’s the situation McDonald’s faced recently, when Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who also happens to be the world’s most famous supporter of digital cryptocurrency Dogecoin, told his 71 million Twitter followers that he would “eat a happy meal on tv if @McDonalds accepts Dogecoin.”

So…how would the fast food chain respond?

“Only if @tesla accepts grimacecoin.”

Of course, there are lots of ways to take this joke. I saw McDonald’s reply as innocent, albeit corny–kind of like one of my jokes that make all three of my kids cringe.

But what happened next is pretty interesting…and also a little confusing. Let’s sort through the aftermath to see if we can learn any lessons from it all.

Cryptocurrency, Happy Meals, and Twitter, Oh My

Soon after McDonald’s posted its tweet, it collected thousands of retweets, likes, and comments.

But it also invited some backlash from the crypto community, including some comments from software engineer and Dogecoin co-creator Billy Markus. 

Markus, who tweets under the handle Shibetoshi Nakamoto, started by saying he gives McDonald’s a “grimace” for their response…before calling out the fast-food chain for what he saw as potentially harmful.

“[I]n real talk @McDonalds, this space has a big problem with crap tokens and shills and bots and bad eggs, so I’m sure the joke had amusing intent but it ends up being super cringe within the crypto sphere,” Markus said on Twitter.

And in “other real talk,” Markus predicted, the story would next get picked up by the media, focusing on the new existence of grimacecoin and its (probable) increase in value, which he claimed would hurt the goodwill of the doge community and result in people losing money.

It seems Markus was right. According to cryptocurrency news outlet CoinDesk, Wednesday’s tweet spurred the creation of nearly 10 “grimacecoins” on one network alone, with one token reaching a market capitalization of nearly $2 million in the matter of hours.

Of course, the crazy thing about all of this is that Dogecoin itself started as a joke, meant to parody the success of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Markus says he created the original Dogecoin in about two hours, and in an open letter wrote that he left the project back in 2015 as the community because “the community started to strongly shift from one that I was comfortable with.”

Grimacecoin started as a joke, in response to Dogecoin.

Dogecoin started as a joke, in response to Bitcoin.

And Bitcoin started as…well, that’s a little more complicated.

But let’s get back to the lesson we learn from all of this. 

Yes, McDonald’s’ joke may have been corny. And it invited some backlash from the crypto community. 

But it also managed to do some great things:

  • It stayed on brand (simple and good-natured)
  • It got tons of publicity and free PR
  • It kept hope alive that we may actually see the richest man in the world eat a Happy Meal on television

So, if your brand gets unwittingly pulled into a joke, follow McDonald’s example: 

Take your time. Respond like a real person. And ride the wave as long as you can.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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