How Popeyes won a summer Twitter war over a fried chicken sandwich

Just look at it.

Just look at it.

I’ve been craving a chicken sandwich for days that’s unavailable in Canada. Apparently it’s divine -- a juicy, crunchy filet of fried chicken atop a pillowy brioche bun slathered in spicy mayo and adorned with thick slabs of crisp, zesty pickles.

What’s to blame for this obsession with a sandwich that I cannot get my hands on?

Social media.

The story behind the new Popeyes chicken sandwich launch is a master class in just how incredibly powerful social media can be. Almost as if on queue following our Melanie Anne Filipp’s timely post on the importance of establishing an active and lively social media presence, Popeyes has become a culinary darling this August -- almost entirely due to Twitter.

A tweet by Chick-fil-A, one of Popeyes’ biggest competitors, suggesting its own chicken sandwich was superior set off a chain of events that ended up giving Popeyes the kind of media attention most brands only dream about. Wendy’s even made a half-baked attempt to get in on the action, but was largely ignored. 

Instead, a fierce Twitter debate erupted that established the superiority of the Popeyes sandwich, which was seen in all its delectable glory in photos on Popeyes social media channels. It resulted in countless news articles asking: Is the sandwich really as insanely delicious as people are saying it is? The verdict: It’s even better.

Even the relatively lofty New Yorker wrote about the sandwich under the headline The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich is Here to Save America. Food websites waxed poetic, with Thrillist calling the sandwich a “tiny miracle.” The sandwiches sold out all over the United States. People waited in lines that stretched for city blocks. 

And yet there was no national ad campaign and no celebrity sponsorship. Instead, there were thousands upon thousands of people sharing Instagram posts and countless tweets. 

Of course, not everyone can be Popeyes, a veritable fried chicken superstar adored even by chefs. And no one could have anticipated Chick-fil-A, its brand already tarnished due to its founders’ stance against same-sex marriage, would foolishly attempt to rain on the Popeyes parade and fuel the wrath of its fans. There was certainly a perfect storm of circumstances working in Popeyes’ favour. But nothing was quite as important as the actual quality and authenticity of its offering, prompting the chain’s many social media followers to extol the new sandwich’s virtues and defend its honour.

And so there are lessons for every company, particularly food retailers, even if they lack Popeyes’ profile.

  1. People love to eat good food. But make sure your menu offerings are as delicious as you’re claiming they are.

  2. People like to tweet and Instagram about what they’re eating. So make it easy for them to find you, tag you and engage with you on social media. Thank them for their praise and don’t be afraid to retweet!

  3. Post lots of mouth-watering photos. Know where your current clients, customers and potential clients and customers spend their time on social media. And tempt their palates.

If you’re having trouble doing any of the above, contact us here at Provident. We have some ideas and would be thrilled to help you execute them!

Oh, and side note: You may want to ponder your own version of a fried chicken sandwich for those of us in Canada who are REALLY NEEDING that Popeyes sandwich but cannot get it yet.