In summer 2019, The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich went viral. It caused chaos. It also trended globally on Twitter. The Washington Post even said it is the best chicken sandwich in America.
Due to high demand, Popeyes also ran out of the sandwich across the country. As a result, an armed group rushed a Houston Popeyes location. What did they want? More sandwiches.
So how did a simple chicken sandwich become such a big national craze? How did it go viral? Let’s take a look.
An Unusual Twitter Beef
Some fast-food brands, like Taco Bell, are famous for their sassy Twitter accounts. Neither Popeyes or Chick-Fil-A is known for getting spicy online.
This may play a part in why their small Twitter interaction blew up. People respond well to things that seem genuine and new. This situation had both elements.
Popeyes first announced their new chicken sandwich on August 12th. There was not much buzz about it.
The Turning Point
On August 19th, Chick-Fil-A sent out an unusual tweet. The company, which is much larger than Popeyes, has over 1 million Twitter followers. Chick-Fil-A called its own sandwich “the original.” This implied Popeyes was copying them.
Of course, Popeyes responded:
That is how the “Twitter War” started.
Bruno Cardinali, Popeyes’ head of marketing for North America, told the Huffington Post:
“It all started with the high quality of our new chicken sandwich that we launched on Aug. 12; we saw a major boost in organic conversations, and we felt it made sense to jump in and participate. After one of our tweets last Monday, we saw another huge spike in conversation about the sandwich.”
Google searches for “Popeyes chicken sandwich” exploded following the Aug. 19 tweets. According to Google Trends, they grew 1000%. A Georgia town was even thinking about banning the sandwich. This was because long drive-through lines led to a few traffic accidents.
The sandwich was launched on August 12th. Popeyes announced that they had run out on August 27th.
Everyone was talking about it from every angle. Bloomberg published an article about the sandwich. According to them, it is a sign of fast food companies struggling to make money.
According to The New Yorker, the sandwich is “here to save America.” Countless YouTube videos with millions of views each were made about this sandwich too.
So, what led to all of this?
An Existing Cult Following
Chick-Fil-A is much larger than Popeyes on paper. It has a cult following. However, there is one thing that the brand did not take into consideration. Popeyes has its own loyal cult following.
Many have considered its chicken to be the best fast-food chicken in the country for years. Popeyes has even been a noted favorite of high profile food personalities like David Chang and Anthony Bourdain.
When Chick-Fil-A sent out that Tweet, it backfired. It only brought attention to the sandwich. They also prompted Popeyes to defend itself and their fans to join in the fray. This worked out alarmingly well for Popeyes.
David vs Goliath
Popeyes had only about 100,000 Twitter followers before the fight began. Once it started, they gained about 25,000 followers in a single day. At present, Popeyes is well on its way to 200,000 Twitter followers.
This situation also plays on one of the most popular narratives of all time: the narrative of The Big Guy vs The Little Guy. Everyone loves an underdog story.
Chick-Fil-A did not just spark a Twitter fight with Popeyes. Of course, after seeing all of the action, several other fast-food restaurants wanted in.
Wendy’s, a brand known for its Twitter antics, got involved. And of course Popeyes responded:
The more people that can get involved in a conversation on social media, the better. Talk is everything.
This conversation involved not only Chick-Fil-A and Popeyes. It also has a bunch of other brands in the mix. Content creators and individual social media users are loving it too.
Cardinali told Yahoo Finance:
“It was an organic conversation. It was the power of the people, and the power of natural organic conversations. It’s been quite exciting. I think it adds a different level and different perspective on how we do marketing.”
Much current research indicates that consumers want to put their money where their ethics are. According to a 2018 Futerra Survey of over 1000 customers in the UK and US, 96% of people believe that making ethical purchases makes a big difference.
Chick-Fil-A is known for its conservative Christian owners. They donate large portions of their earnings to groups with controversial anti-LGBTQ stances. After significant criticism, Chick-Fil-A claimed they would stop. Then, they claimed to have “no political affiliation” in 2012.
However, this has been revealed to be a lie by their tax returns.
In 2017, Chick-Fil-A donated nearly $2 million to anti-LGBT organizations. This includes $150,000 to the Salvation Army. The Salvation Army has been accused of discrimination against the LGBT community for years. Its media relations director is also known for claiming that gay people deserve to die.
Due to this, many people choose not to eat at Chick-Fil-A at all. This is especially true of those in the LGBT community. For years articles have been circulating around the internet telling people not to eat at Chick-Fil-A too. That is a poor image to have.
A lot of people still choose to eat at Chick-Fil-A. And it is clear that some of them do not feel good about it. Many would feel much better about giving their money to Popeyes. Popeyes provides a similar (or better) product with none of the baggage.
A Good Product
At this point, there is no denying that most people just love Popeyes Chicken Sandwich. It became a darling of both social media content creators and major news organizations.
On top of that, regular people are also talking about it. And they are loving it.
Many people just enjoy the sandwich. This has made it a truly delicious viral hit. Of course, people love talking about things they enjoy online.
Imagine if people did not like the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich. In that case, there would be a very different story on social media. Remember, bad products might go viral. However, it will rarely be for positive reasons.
Ultimately, many things led to the viral success of the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich. Chick-Fil-A sparked a truly fascinating social media phenomenon.
Other brands will try to copy parts of it in the future. For example, McDonald’s has already tried and failed. Its attempt has earned headlines like “McDonald’s Spicy BBQ Sandwich Will Have to Try Harder If It Wants to Win the 2019 Chicken Sandwich War” from Eater.
Also, their sandwich been called “disappointing” across the internet.
A Chicken Sandwich War To Remember
Next, brands will likely find new ways to use social media fights. Eventually, they may even kill the tactic. If they become too widely used, consumers may become bored. If the fights don’t feel real, audiences will move on. They always do.
While no one can say for sure what exactly will happen, one thing is sure. The winner of this battle is Popeyes. They are estimated to have gained $65 million in equivalent media value from the 2019 Chicken Sandwich War.
So, want to get more inspiration? There are so many brands doing amazing things on social media. Check out our round-up of Inspirational Brands Making Social Media Marketing Magic In 2019.
What else do you think may have contributed to the viral success of Popeyes? Comment below…