One of the world’s hottest topics last summer in the United States, besides POTUS, was the launch of the new chicken sandwich from Popeyes.
Besides what we could qualify as regular coverage from Adage and Adweek, the marketing launch was also covered by mainstream media such as CNN, The New York Times, CBC, NBC, The Washington Post, Forbes, and so on. In other words, the phenomenon captured everyone’s attention.
In Popeyes restaurants, the hype was such that the popular chain ran out of chicken sandwiches after only a couple of weeks. Over and above the actual sales, the media coverage was equivalent to a $65M investment
Let’s take a closer look at the viral phenomenon that shocked and awed America.
Popeyes is a fast food chain counting just over 3,000 restaurants across the US. Since 2017, it was acquired by Restaurant Brand International, the holding also possessing Burger King and Tim Hortons. In Canada, Popeyes has only a few locations in Toronto and in Ottawa but has yet to open any in Quebec.
Popeyes has a menu mainly composed of deep-fried chicken and seafood, inspired by classic Louisiana cuisine. Although, the chain had never listed a chicken sandwich on its menu.
The American media covered images featuring long waiting lines of patient customers waiting for their piece of the new menu item, as well as car cues from drive-thru locations. After only two weeks, when sandwiches were declared back order, the media started to publish home-made signs featured in multiple locations, where the sandwiches were no longer available.
This mediatic circus led to what usually happens in the US when anything becomes scarce: a series of ridiculous outcomes started to take form. From eBay resales up to $7,000 to an armed robbery in Houston at the local Popeyes. Only in America!
Social Media Heat
While competition was fierce during the hype of the chicken sandwich, Popeyes also took place in an online battle with its competitors. The most notable one was the fight with Chick-Fil-A. Another chicken specialized fast-food chain.
It all started on Twitter when Popeyes announced the arrival of its chicken sandwich with a certain arrogance. Its rival, Chick-Fil-A, until then completely absent from the social media realm, has suddenly appeared on the digital spectrum and responded to Popeyes a week later. On August 19, Chick-Fil-A claimed to be the first one in history to offer a deep-fried chicken sandwich, stating they basically they were the original. Popeyes responded in less than three hours.
Still on August 19, other competitors entered the challenging feed of conversation and all claimed to have the best chicken sandwich. Between Wendy’s, Shake Shack and Bojangles, it wasn’t clear who finally won the argument that started between Popeyes and Chick-Fil-A. After a month of hostilities, the number of Popeyes Twitter followers had more than doubled. Bringing experts to the conclusion that they were the big winner of them all.
The Californian #PopeyesGate
In 2017, a small joint restaurant in Long Beach, Los Angeles, the Sweet Dixie Kitchen, got caught serving chicken sandwich bought from Popeyes. The owner was selling the sandwiches for a few dollars extra.
At the time, the whole story went viral as the owner candidly admitted that the sandwiches were simply the best and she thought they were delicious. The public response was arguably positive as the owner never tried to hide information or deceive anyone.
Before the official public launch of the chicken sandwich it all its locations on August 12, Popeyes orchestrated a pre-launch at Sweet Dixie Kitchen on August 8. A small wink at the whole episode that then became the #PopeyesGate.
As the shortage was in full throttle, Popeyes came up with a quirky solution inviting its customers to “bring their own bread”, buy the deep-fried chicken at Popeyes and assemble their own sandwich. The operation was named BYOB and they produced a fun and light TV spot for the occasion.
We are patiently waiting for the opening of the first Popeyes in Montreal. In the meantime, we know a few good joints close to our offices in Old Montreal. If you wish to join us for a coffee, a lunch or just a drink, while enjoying our view and talking of creative marketing strategies, call us. We’ll hook you up!
With love and purpose,