It’s redundant to say that social media is a powerful marketing tool, but Popeyes owes the meteoric success of its chicken sandwich to the viral hype broadcasted on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram over the last several weeks. Popeyes launched its new chicken sandwich on August 12th, deeming it the biggest launch for the restaurant chain in 30 years. The sandwich was met with decent fanfare from Popeyes’ loyal customers, but awareness didn’t explode until a competitor through some gasoline in the fire.
In a pompous effort, Chick-fil-A tried to remind people that they are tops when it comes to chicken sandwiches, and it does have a good case. Chick-fil-A has quickly become not only the top fast food chicken chain in the country, but also the 3rd largest restaurant chain in the US, falling behind only McDonald’s and Starbucks (for context, Popeyes is ranked 25th). Overall, Chick-fil-A has a 27.9% share of the chicken market, while Popeyes has 10.1% As the largest rooster in the coop, Chick-fil-A felt some type of way when Popeyes’ tried to enter a category its dominating. The led Chick-fil-A to send Popeyes a subliminal shot on Twitter, however, things backfired and had opposite effects. Popeyes cleverly spun Chick-fil-A’s tweet, making the beloved brand seem petty and, in turn, igniting an all out chicken sandwich war.
Popeyes probably didn’t expect to get the response it did, but the retweet set off a valuable promotional wave that led to a surge in sales. The simple clap back instigated significant social conversations on who actually had the best chicken sandwich and people were passionate in voicing their opinions. If you logged onto social media, you couldn’t avoid hearing about Popeyes’ new sandwich . Garnering organic promotion is one of the most powerful levers to raise brand awareness and drive action.
The one challenge of social media is turning likes and follows into dollars. Brands can have 1 million followers, but if these people aren’t buying that brand’s goods/ services, they’re useless. The beauty behind this chicken sandwich war is that it actually push people to Popeyes stores. Human beings are tribal creatures, so they want to be part of conversations or trends to feel like they’re not missing out. All the energy on social media made people curious enough to wait in long lines at Popeyes to try the sandwich and post social proof that they tried the sandwich. Hype is just a snowball, getting bigger and bigger over time. Apex Marketing Group estimated that Popeyes received $65 million in equivalent media value due to social media. This is a tremendous save for the company’s marketing budget and shows how powerful social media marketing is if there’s something people can rally around, even if its fried chicken. Ironically, it all started with Chick-fil-A’s own social efforts.
Ultimately, all the buzz produced intense demand that surpassed Popeyes’ estimates, leading to the sandwiches being sold out across US stores. This is highly risky as the company is riding a huge wave of momentum. In basketball, if you’re on fire, you keep shooting until you miss. Running out of chicken sandwich inventory can put a huge damper on its accelerating brand popularity. Will people care in a few months when the sandwich returns? Will people how realize how ridiculous to wait that long for fast food? I was able to get my hands on one before it sold out. The drive thru line at the Popeyes stretched 30 cars deep blocking traffic and inside it was end of the world chaos. I wouldn’t say it’s the best thing I ever ate, but I do like it more than Chick-fil-A’s. However, people are over reacting, as usual with any fad.