by Nick Kastner, Director of Brand & Digital Strategy

This past week has been one of those weeks that will go on down in internet infamy. Popeyes Chicken went head to head with Chick-Fil-A in what many have now dubbed the “Chicken Sandwich War of 2019.” It all started with this tweet:

That started a firestorm of tweets and posts across the web, long lines at Popeyes drive-thrus across the country and many of their stores selling out of the now infamous sandwich.

Apex Marketing Group even released a report stating that Popeyes received $23.25 million in equivalent ad value across all social media platforms over the past 11 days (since sandwich launched) from all of the buzz. Was it this tweet that drove all the hype? Actually, no. It was something else entirely.

So, from all of this, what did we actually learn?

1. Viral isn’t dead.

With test restaurants offering the chicken sandwich for months and an actual release date of the chicken sandwich on August 12, why did it take 7 days to become one of the biggest things on the internet? Because viral marketing isn’t dead. Yes, the tweet above definitely played a role in its success – but as did the thousands of tweets, posts and snaps across the web that made this sandwich a viral sensation. This isn’t some genius marketing campaign that drove results. It’s the result of the collective – a sly comment to a competitor and the audience being in on the conversation.

It’s even come down to a signage war in some cities:

2. Individuals, groups and culture all matter on social media.

Marketers know that individuals can have a high impact on social media. Consider one angry customer who posts a negative review on every social media channel. Statistically, Spiegel Research Center states that those who viewed negative remarks on social media channels reduce spending by an average of 12% and purchase frequency by 5%. If that individual spreads that negativity to groups, that’s a lot of negative impact on a brand. However, a positive experience followed by a negative experience can lead to a 58 percent increase in spending.

In addition, we all know brands have leveraged politics, pop culture and subcultures to strengthen their brand. Consider Arby’s, and how they have embraced “nerd culture,” Nike and Colin Kaepernick, or the many, many brands who have adopted or been part of an influencer marketing effort. For those that don’t know – influencer marketing is basically the new form of endorsements on social media with influencers ranging from DJ Khaled to Peyton Mabry being paid to promote and / or mention a brand in their social media posts. If timed appropriately, or even on accident, a product can go from unknown to the most popular on the planet with just a few social posts.

So, we know much of the success of these socially-driven campaigns are attributed to both individuals and groups. Some are attributing the entire success of Popeyes chicken sandwich to #BlackTwitter. For those who aren’t active Twitter users – #BlackTwitter is simply the description used on Twitter of the collective identity of African Americans who share their experiences – both positive and negative.

Just like a negative review, marketing campaigns in general can be highly impactful if supported by a collective. We’ve seen this numerous times, and it works for brands both big and small – if supported by a community. While Popeyes efforts weren’t really a campaign – really just a single post – it still can be effective in driving results.

3. Supply and demand in fast food matters.

I love Popeyes. If you’re looking for fried chicken for a tailgate this weekend, it’s a great choice. I love Chick-Fil-A too, but I’ve had their sandwich. I can’t seem to get my hands on one of these Popeyes chicken sandwiches!

One person on our team, Erin, has been able to try it and said it is as awesome as everyone says it is. But, as you can see below, my attempt to try this sandwich has failed 3 times thus far. And yes, that’s the line to get into the parking lot at Popeyes. There were even 3 cars in the turning lane coming from the other direction trying to get in.

Popeyes Drive Thru in Gainesville, GA

Unfortunately, I am one of the many who isn’t going to wait 45 minutes for a sandwich. It may be worth it, but that’s a big time commitment for a piece of chicken.

While I know most Popeyes locations had no clue it would be this popular, their inability to keep up with demand will do one of two things – drive increasing demand and further drive scarcity, or cause burnout. You have to remember that in today’s society, most want things “right now.” If customers are unable to get what they want when they want it – especially in fast food – will this cause people to eventually give up? We’ve already seen a few individuals frustration on social media – jumping through drive thru windows or starting fights in the restaurant – over a sandwich! But, how many times are they willing to stand in line or sit in a drive thru line at a fast food restaurant for, well, anything?

One individual texted my wife and said “A sandwich is messing up one of my favorite restaurants. WTH!” I don’t foresee the popularity of the Popeyes chicken sandwich remaining at this level forever – maybe for a few more weeks – but once the new is worn off, a number of people will go back to Chick-Fil-A and clog their drive thrus.

Nonetheless, fingers crossed that I’m able to try one soon. And, to those of you that have had the opportunity to try one already, congratulations. Here’s to hoping.