Over the past month, fast food chain Popeyes has been the center of a fascinating business phenomenon: after introducing a new chicken sandwich, their total sales went up 67% across the country, only to come crashing down when they ran out of their product. Rarely has a national chain seen their revenue double in a matter of weeks like this, and it has experts spellbound.
What fueled this massive boom, which resulted in hour-long waits, lines of customers out the door, and even a man pulling out a gun when they ran out of sandwiches, was undoubtedly social media and young adult marketing. Here is how Popeyes made their new product go viral and what you can learn about your own business.
In the age of health-conscious shoppers, chicken sandwiches have become a fast food staple. With the success of Chic-Fil-A—now the third most popular fast food chain in the country—chains like Buffalo Wild Wings, Cracker Barrell, and Burger King have been adding chicken sandwiches to their menus. Popeyes wanted to get in on the action and rolled out their new chicken sandwich this summer to glowing reviews. Chick-Fil-A noticed, and they subsequently tweeted this ad:
Later that day, Popeyes responded to their tweet and said “y’all good?”, and in a matter of seconds, the entire online community exploded. Black Twitter, the community responsible for much of the meme content that floats through the internet, started spreading the tweet. Google searches for Popeyes’ Chicken Sandwich increased 1000%. Debate raged on Twitter and Reddit about which chicken restaurant was king. As a result, traffic at Popeyes skyrocketed—people reported waiting over an hour for a sandwich and at almost every location, lines wrapped around the building. In fact, the demand was so high that after a few weeks, the entire organization literally ran out of sandwiches. As suddenly as it had appeared, the Great Chicken Sandwich War of 2019 was over— for now.
What we see here is the power of advertising, the influence of social media, and the important role Millennials and Gen Z-ers play in the modern economy. Here are three takeaways from the Popeyes chicken campaign that you can apply to your own business.
1. It Was Authentic and Relatable
Millennials value authenticity, especially when it comes to which businesses they support. By tweeting “y’all good?” to Chic-Fil-A, it simultaneously humanized their company and promoted their product. It was funny, real, and relatable, and it sparked a twitter debate not just between customers, but between other businesses. The continued responses further promoted the new sandwich while making Popeyes an organization Millennials and Gen Z-ers wanted to support. They found a way to organically connect with their customers, which is of the utmost importance.
2. As a Result, It Was Engaging
Have you noticed that commercials are becoming more like short skits? Advertisers realized that with people taking in so much information every day, they have to be extra engaging to stand out. Because Popeyes followed step one, they made an advertisement so engaging it spread through the entire internet. Think of it like a good reality TV show: it was dramatic, funny, personal, and organic.
3. Product Scarcity Can Drive Business
It’s economics 101: all else equal, if you lower the supply of a product, demand for it goes up. That’s why McDonalds only releases the McRib and the Shamrock Shake for a few weeks out of the year, and why the Super Bowl occurs only once. In this case, once millions of people realized they wanted to try the sandwich, the low supply made it more urgent, and people came out in droves. While they ended up having too few sandwiches, this is an extreme case, and you can still utilize this principle (sparingly!) in your own business.
4. It Effectively Utilized Social Media
Millennials and Gen Z-ers use social media frequently, and the Great Chicken Sandwich War occurred entirely in their world. Instead of bringing customers to you, an effective marketing campaign brings the ads to them in non-traditional ways. Millennials and Gen Z-ers are more cynical than ever of traditional ad forms, and companies have been finding success with advertising when it blends in to media that Millennials frequent, such as partnering with social media influencers and responding to customer feedback on Twitter and Facebook. This does not mean you should completely drop print articles and radio commercials; rather, it means your creative team should find ways to advertise that don’t reek of consumerism.
5. They Have a History of Good Customer Relations
“Popeyes [has a history of] consistent products, longstanding brand loyalty among this customer group, and national accessibility,” said God-is Rivera, Twitter’s Global Director of Culture and Community. True, they capitalized on a massive push from fans, but they were able to do so because they were already a part of the conversation. They cultivated their base through open communication with customers, providing a consistent, delicious product, listening to feedback, and connecting with them as a person as opposed to as a business. In order to see massive sales boosts like this, you have to work hard to find a loyal following. Build your base.