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Popeyes' Chicken Sandwich: A Study in Social Media Marketing

The day is September 14, 2019, and Popeyes has yet to bring back the now infamous chicken sandwich, and their misguided “BYOBun” campaign is only causing more hurt in the chicken sandwich world. How did we get here though? How did Popeyes cause a mass hysteria, selling 1000 sandwiches a day? Short answer, they didn’t. Social media caused this with the use of memes, videos and debates. All Popeyes did was make a sandwich, and doubt how well it would sell.

The only actions Popeyes took to cause this popularity was listen to their customers telling them to put a sandwich on the menu, and then start a twitter debate with Chick Fil A. A week after releasing their version of a chicken sandwich, Popeyes tweeted directly to Chick Fil A, causing followers of both companies to begin debating the quality of each sandwich. Those tweets then caused more people to become interested, and want to join in on the online debate. The only way to genuinely join in though, was to buy a Popeyes chicken sandwich.

Everyone then decided to try the new sandwich, simultaneously. The demand skyrocketed, and long lines began forming at Popeyes across the nation. Those lines were then filmed and tweeted out, and anyone who wasn’t already intrigued by the sandwich debate, was made curious by the lines. This caused another jump in demand for Popeyes, because everyone loves lines, and everyone hates missing out on the current trending topic. No one thought missing out was possible though, until “Sorry we’re sold out” became the immediate response to anyone’s request for the sandwich.

Hype streetwear collabs sell out. Concert and music festival tickets sell out. Fast food restaurants do not sell out. That was the rule until this hysteria happened. Before the sell out, Popeyes was marketing like a hit record in the digital era more than a physical item. A music artist(Popeyes) releases a song((sandwich), and then promotes it(tweet). Social media then takes that song, makes funny meme videos with it, and attracts people who would’ve otherwise missed the song. Think about Future’s Mask Off and the flute videos, Migos’ meme video for Bad and Boujee, and more recently Up Town Road and tiktok. The thing about digital music though is that it can’t sell out, therefore everyone who wants to hear it can. This wasn't the case after Popeyes ran through their inventory that was expected to last 2 months in only 2 weeks.

The thought that this sell out is genuine, and not a marketing conspiracy is more believable with this in mind. It takes hard work to sell out on purpose, and this wasn’t done on purpose. This may be from lack of cable, but I don’t recall ever seeing a commercial for the sandwich online or on TV. Popeyes didn’t expect this to be a hit, and it shows by how much they promoted and prepared for it. And also why Popeyes is having a hard time keeping up the hype with this new “BYOB” campaign while people wait. That’s why it’s clear to see that this “Popeyes chicken sandwich hysteria” is a clear example of social media being a marketing goldmine when it is genuine.

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