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Opinion: McDonald’s Grandma McFlurry Evokes Images of Dusty Candy and Granny Panties. No Thanks, Says This Grandma

Skip this ‘lazy marketing’ scheme and go for a real butterscotch sundae with your grandma

spinner image Grandma McFlurry in a car cup holder
Roger Kisby

McDonald’s claims its latest frozen sensation, the Grandma McFlurry, evokes sweet thoughts of an older generation, but it just leaves this grandma with a sour taste in her mouth. 

The fast-food chain launched Grandma McFlurry with grand (ha!) fanfare this week, including a Grandma McFlurry mobile unit that delivered samples to senior centers and assisted living centers in New York City. The 600-calorie frozen concoction features butterscotch-flavored syrup and a McDonald’s version of soft-serve that’s loaded with chopped butterscotch candy chips. Although McDonald’s never says, the candies are surely meant to mimic Werther’s Originals, the butterscotch candies that built an entire ad campaign in the 1980s about being the favorite of grandparents.

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The Grandma McFlurry sells for about $6. But I had to go to two McDonald’s to find a franchise with a working soft-serve machine, and the McFlurry I got was more McSlushy than creamy. It was served in a run-of-the-mill McFlurry cup, not the as-advertised, pink and red cup with “xoxo, Grandma” printed on the side (and frankly that was just fine because talk about syrupy…).

The taste is sweet — sweet like eating sugar straight from the bowl sweet — not surprising since an approximate one-cup serving has 73 grams of added sugar, the equivalent of more than 17 teaspoons. 

But it’s not the taste or even the lack of nutrition that bothers me — heck, I’ll take a butterscotch sundae anytime. It’s the name. Grandma McFlurry? Seriously? It’s just ageism and lazy marketing, kids. Don’t fall for it. Heck, even Werther’s is trying to change its image to market to a more diverse — read younger — audience. 

I suppose to McDonald’s credit, there’s a diversity of grandmas in the Grandma McFlurry ad, all having a grand time, so to speak, slurping a Grandma McFlurry with loving grandchildren who appear to be Gen Z, in their teens and 20s. And the company is donating to Little Brothers/Friends of the Elderly — a visitation program to prevent isolation among older people. (Although apparently preventing diabetes is not a priority — just saying.)

But the ad is pure nostalgia, playing on the emotions of spending quality time with a fave grandmother, or at least one who always had a hard candy at the bottom of her pocketbook. Of course, there’s also something in the ad for actual grandmas: a remix of Marvin Gaye’s 1965 hit “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You),” because none of us over 65 ever listen to anything post-1975. 

The ad tells us that grandmas know that a sweet treat makes any meal better. My own kids had one grandmother who hated to cook — so, for starters, could we just drop that trope? 

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The company also invites us to “embrace your granny-ness.” What the heck does that mean? First you eat the Grandma McFlurry and next thing you’re wearing giant white cotton panties and searching through your purse for Werther’s and an unused tissue? How about we embrace granny-ness by doing what the grandparents I know are doing: working, traveling, exercising, making cool stuff, helping neighbors, comforting friends, babysitting their grandkids — heck, raising their grandkids. If you want to name something after Grandma, it should be a power shake, not a sugar-crash-inducing cup of glop. 

So, McDonald’s, stop using grandmas to sell overprocessed ice cream and make a buck. And Gen Z, don’t just feel nostalgic about your grandma; call her. According to a survey by Carewell, a health care company, only 18 percent of Gen Z’ers reported being close to their grandparents, as compared to 32 percent of millennials, the generation ahead of them. If you’re lucky enough to have a grandmother, get in touch, go on a walk with her, pick her up at work, mow her lawn or, why not, take her for ice cream! I bet she’d like a real butterscotch sundae. 

AARP essays share a point of view in the author’s voice, drawn from expertise or experience, and do not necessarily reflect the views of AARP.

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