AdAge awarded Popeye’s as the No.2 marketer of the year, and for good reason. With the release (and then rerelease) of its chicken sandwich, Popeye’s hit a marketing goldmine. In August when the sandwich was first released, you could not surf social media without seeing some mention of it. Apex Marketing Group estimated Wednesday that Popeyes reaped $65 million in equivalent media value as a result of the Chicken Sandwich Wars. 

But how exactly did they do it? How did Popeye’s spike sales up 10.2% and see its strongest growth in 20 years from one simple sandwich? In this post, we explain how Popeye’s leveraged marketing to create wildfire with its chicken sandwich.

They Had a Good Product

The first key to marketing is to actually have a high-quality product. Groundbreaking, I know, but it is a lot easier to create buzz around something that is inherently good. Whether the Popeye’s sandwich is better than the infamous Chick-fil-a sandwich is a separate debate (more on that later…), but it is an arguably good product that sold out within the first two weeks!

Starting way back in 2016, care went into creating a delicious sandwich. The sandwich is made with hand-selected bread, slathered in the same butter as their biscuits, and topped with fresh pickles. After five months of tinkering, VP of Culinary Innovation, Amy Alcaron was finally ready to share the sandwich with consumer tests. The real challenge was getting operations right at every location to reproduce the sandwich. 

The bottom line? The Popeyes sandwich was no fluke success, it started with thorough product development. 

Timing is Everything

The next thing Popeye’s nailed is the timing. Popeye’s released their sandwich during a time when chicken sandwiches were hot. While burgers still lead the fast-food game, more consumers are turning to chicken sandwiches. Had Popeye’s released their sandwich before the chicken sandwich surge, the story may have been different. They expertly slid in after some others had laid the foundation for fast-food chicken sandwiches.

Social. Media.

The absolute key to Popeye’s chicken sandwich craze was social media. The Chicken Sandwich wars, the snarky replies, the overwhelming customer input was all housed on social media. The success of Popeye’s chicken sandwich would not have happened without social media. There was a staggering one tweet per second about Popeye’s between Aug 12 and Aug 31.

Social media is now one of the absolute keys to successful marketing, especially to reach the Millennials and Gen Z. Restaurant Brands International lead investor, 3G Capital, told The Wall Street Journal that edgy social-media posts are often a better use of money than TV spots.

Popeye's chicken sandwich war

(Not so) Friendly Competition 

Popeye’s also sensed blood in the water when its sandwich began to pique interest and used the most visible player in the game to generate its own noise according to  QSR Magazine. Interacting with competitors on social media, namely Chick-fil-A, ignited a ferocious Chicken Sandwich War, where customers were trying multiple chicken sandwiches from different restaurants and naming a winner. Serious arguments irrupted about who had the best chicken sandwich, and this compelled many customers to go try it for themselves. In fact, Popeye’s saw the biggest jump in media value when outlets ran these taste tests comparing them to other popular chicken sandwiches. 

Popeye's chicken sandwich funny

Relatable, Funny Brand Voice

Popeye’s leveraged its new visibility to showcase a new, sassy brand voice. The prime example fo this is their response to Chick-fil-A’s photos of their chicken sandwich. Soon after the release of Popeye’s chicken sandwich, Chick-fil-A was feeling a bit threatened. They posted a tweet “Bun + Chicken + Pickles = Love.” in an attempt to remind customers who the leading chicken chain was. How did Popeye’s respond? “…y’all good?”. So so simple, yet clever and effective. This punchy reply was just the beginning of Popeye’s new brand voice. Popeye’s social media team, GSD&M constantly monitored social media and delivered witty replies. 

Scarcity 

One of the first rules of economy we all learn is that scarcity drives value. The news that Popeye’s was running out of sandwiches surged the buzz even more, as customers just had to get their hands on one before they ran out. At the time, Popeye’s had no set date for the return of the sandwich, which only spiked the panic frenzy to get one of the sandwiches. While Popeye’s may not have planned the scarcity to be that quick or dramatic, they certainly reaped its benefits. 

Popeye's chicken sandwich line
Popeyes customers wait in line to order chicken sandwiches on August 22, 2019, in Kyle, Texas.
 Eric Gay/AP Photo

Learning from Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich Success

Popeye’s chicken sandwich is one of the biggest marketing successes of 2019. So how can we learn from it? No matter what industry you are in, there are some important takeaways from Popeye’s story. The Popeye’s chicken sandwich frenzy taught us (again) that:

  • Quality is paramount. It is worth taking the time to develop a product that people will actually want, and it is actually pretty easy to market really good things. 
  • It isn’t always what you do, it is when you do it. Pay attention to industry trends and what consumers want to find the best time for your new product or marketing efforts. 
  • Social media is a highly effective source for marketing that is much more cost-effective than paid ads or TV commercials. Want to reach Millennials? Get your butt on social media. 
  • Have a voice. Developing a strong brand personality goes a long way. People want to feel like they relate to your brand. 
  • Make it engaging. A large part of Popeye’s success was the way the Chicken Sandwich Wars encouraged customer participation and feedback. Popeye’s started a conversation and customers were able to interact with each other and the brand. Also, as we all know, nothing gets more people involved than a silly internet fight (remember the black and blue vs gold and white dress?)
  • Limited supplies ignite a wildfire. Emphasize exclusivity (limited quantity, limited time available, etc) especially for new products. 

What’s Next for Popeye’s?

Popeye’s positioned itself to be the next great brand, but will it? We have seen time and time again brands who start a craze only to fall out of popularity as quickly as they entered it. Will Popeye’s marketing be able to grasp on to its momentum and move forward? Only time will tell. 

In the meantime, you can take some lessons from their chicken sandwich success to improve your own marketing strategy. It starts with content. You need engaging social media copy and web content that displays your unique brand voice. No promises, but will certainly try to help you become the next marketing craze like Popeye’s. You request, we create. Unlimited content for a flat monthly fee. Get your dedicated Content Cucumber writer today by visiting our website HERE

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