Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Friday, March 2, 2018

How Rick and Morty fans enacted real social change... (kinda)

Fans of hit US cartoon Rick and Morty recently issued a petition containing over 45,000 signatures to one of the world's largest coorperations... and succeeded.

The reasoning behind this petition stems from a charateristically surreal moment in Episode 1, Season 3. Main character Rick travels back in time to MacDonalds, 1988 to get his hands on a limited edition Szechuan Sauce made for the promotion of the movie Mulan. It turns out this promotion was real and the fans want in. 

After a high volume of tweets directed at the global fast food giant, a petition soon followed to get this sauce back in the world. As of February 22nd this year, MacDonalds finally agreed to release 20million sachets of the magic sauce to every restaurant in the US. Wubbalubbadubdub. 

This is a clear example of the scarcity principle in action (Cialdini, 2009). The idea that a product is finite, on sale for a limited time only, compells people to percieve it with higher value and to impulse buy for fear of missing out. This can be adequatley explained by our aversion to loss (Kahneman, 2011). Indeed, while this petition comes across as a victory for campaigners, it is clearly extremely effective marketing for MacDonalds and no doubt a welcome addition to their sales this year. 

At the risk of reading too much into the actions of crazed sauce lovers, what is even more interesting is that fans acted completely independently to lobby MacDonalds with no suggestion from the show itself. Therefore, while the scarcity principle is clearly powerful, perhaps there is something more at work. 

Dr. Travis Langley, writer for Psychology Today describes how cult TV shows can have the power to unite and empower its fans. This is most likely due to an increased sense of belonging and the formation of an in-group (Cialdini, 2009). Furthermore, Jenkins (2016) describes how youth today are using aspects of the digital age such as TV series' to encourage engagement in civil issues. According to Jenkins, the shift in communication during this digital age has lead to the emergence of a participatory culture leading to all kinds of movements, such as the Harry Potter Alliance which fights for human rights. Who knows, maybe binging out on Netflix isn't so bad after all! 

Whether this Rick and Morty fan venture was a noble cause or not is a matter of perspective, however it did have profound impact. Think what those fans could do if their priorities were turned to other issues... 


Cialdini, R. B. (2009). Influence: Science and practice (Vol. 4). Boston, MA: Pearson education. 

Langley, T. (2014). Psychology of Cult TV: Better living by "Geeking Out". Retrieved 02.03.2018, from 

Jenkins, H. (2016). By any media necessary: The new youth actisim. NYU Press.

Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Macmillan. 

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