PR Training

PR Inspiration From the #ChickenWars: How the New Popeyes Sandwich Became a Viral Hit

Did you stand in line for the release? Which version did you like? Did you get one before they sold out? Was it as good as they say?

No, I’m not talking about the new iPhone. I’m talking about the new chicken sandwich from Popeyes, an unexpected PR master class.

When Popeyes launched its sandwich on Aug. 12, the country took notice. Within days, the sandwich had stirred a fast-food fight with its own hashtag, generated a meme battle and had blogs and news organizations scrambling to post reviews.

In just two weeks, the chicken mayhem had earned Popeye’s a boatload of new Twitter followers, a huge boost in profits and an estimated $65 million in free advertising.

For PR pros, tens of millions of dollars may not be a realistic goal for a social media campaign, but it is a good demonstration of how a product launch combined with an exciting social push can drive big results for a client. And at MediaSource, driving big results is what we’re all about.

Here’s a look at how Popeyes turned a chicken sandwich into a multimillion dollar advertising campaign, and what you can learn from their strategy:

Plan ahead for a big launch

Until the afternoon of Aug. 8, no one knew the Popeyes chicken sandwich was coming. Popeyes’ official social media channels hadn’t hinted at a launch, there was no long-running countdown on their website and media organizations had yet to break the news. But that changed with one tweet, and it wasn’t a simple text-based announcement.

Popeyes played on a 2017 controversy where a California brunch spot was caught using the chain’s chicken in their own sandwich. Two years later, Popeyes chose to debut its chicken sandwich announcement with a video from Sweet Dixie Kitchen, where they would give a preview of the sandwich, giving an in-depth and viral feel to the announcement.

From the moment the notice hit the internet, Popeyes was ready with an in-depth video, press releases, multimedia of the sandwich and a social media strategy. PR pros can take note: it’s best to launch with a plan in place, not wing it as you go.

Don’t skimp on the visuals

Before anyone could taste Popeyes’ sandwich, they could see that it looked delicious. Within hours of their announcements, photos of the crispy chicken sandwich were plastered all over the internet, accompanying almost every news blurb about the sandwich. The pictures made their way to the windows of Popeyes’ franchises and took the opportunity to use their orange-themed branding on their social media posts.

On top of standard visuals, Popeyes’ introductory video demonstrated the brand’s command of visual storytelling. Rather than a video that looks like any other fast-food commercial, the Popeyes team used the launch to tell a story while still showcasing their product. The launch video now has 100,000 views on Twitter and another 20,000 on YouTube. Each one of those viewers now knows more about Popeyes’ brand.

PR pros should remember that even the most exciting announcements can be enhanced and improved with compelling visuals and multimedia components. Rather than cookie-cutter intro videos, take a chance on telling a story with your video. And if you aren’t sure how, check out our visual storytelling guide.

Show some personality

Once Popeyes had launched its sandwich and interest began piling up, the company could have simply played it safe. But its social media team had other ideas.

Within days of the sandwich’s launch, Popeyes was sending playful Twitter jabs at Chick-fil-A and Wendy’s, drumming up articles about the #ChickenWars. They retweeted celebrities and regular people alike, showcasing the sandwich’s popularity. Embracing the silliness of the #ChickenWars storyline proved to go a long way toward all that free advertising.

Social media presence doesn’t always have to be formal and stuffy. If you strike the right tone for your brand, then you can use product launches, low-level controversy and even a little friendly back-and-forth to make your presence more likable while interacting with fans, media and other organizations.

Find opportunity when plans change

Everything was going smoothly for Popeyes — until they ran out of chicken. On Aug. 27, Popeyes announced that it was all sold out of its sandwich, and people were less-than-thrilled.

But, in keeping with their lighthearted demeanor, the Popeyes social team decided to steer into the skid. They used it as an opportunity for yet another video, this time detailing how wildly popular the sandwich had become.

Popeyes was “legit proud” of its customers for eating all their chicken, they said, along with a “pinky swear” that they would be coming back. They even used the opportunity to send customers to their app, promising that they would use the platform to alert people to the sandwich’s triumphant return.

It’s not always easy to turn problems into opportunities. But in the wake of frustrated customers, Popeyes found a way to turn lemons into lemonade (or chicken into chicken salad), and launched a whole new round of promotion for its sandwich.

Communicators can use this same mindset in other scenarios, opting for optimistic new content and lighthearted engagement over a stoic statement or an overly serious apology. Keep things light and your fans will too.


Lisa Arledge Powell is president of MediaSource, an award-winning communications agency that specializes in video production, public relations, social media and strategic insights, constantly securing national exposure for major brands. Connect with Lisa on Twitter: @LisaArledge

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Lisa Arledge Powell

1 Comment

  • I really enjoyed reading about all that went into the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich launch. As an aspiring public relations professional, it is interesting to see the behind-the-scenes work that PR practitioners created to ensure this launch was a success. I am definitely interested to see more of Popeyes work in the future.

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