You may have heard the news, it's back. The Popeyes Chicken Sandwich that polarized the internet, forcing people far and wide to pledge their allegiance to their sandwich of choice has finally returned. For those unaware of the fast-food phenomenon that took place throughout August, here’s a quick debrief.
The Start of a War
On August 12, Popeyes announced in a tweet the launch of their brand new chicken sandwich and with a tactical social media marketing approach, the internet blew up. Popeyes began to market their sandwich as being undoubtedly the best in the business, publicly taking on other fast-food giants who offer their own variation of the product, especially Chick-fil-A.
Although some could argue that Popeyes approach on social media was a bit aggressive, Johnson & Wales’ professor Douglas Stuchel saw it as a clever way to target a bigger audience. “The company had undoubtedly seen a spike in search engine hits, social media engagement and hashtag searches such as #chickensandwichwars #chickensandwich #chickenwars,” Stuchel says. This creation of a chicken sandwich war online ultimately gave Popeyes “a direct way to market to a new customer.”
Due to Popeyes marketing their sandwich so successfully, suddenly photos and posts of people waiting for hours in line just for a chance to try this simple delight along with a social media frenzy began popping up all around the internet. The web exploded, all of which surrounded by one simple question, who really has the best chicken sandwich? But when it came to the bottom line, the answer didn’t matter. “I believe it is good for all involved, it creates a viral buzz on social media, and it catches the headlines of traditional press,” says Stuchel.
A Shocking Twist
However with such a huge buzz surrounding the new menu item, it came to many customers’ surprise when Popeyes dropped the bomb only a few weeks after the sandwich launched: The chicken sandwich was sold out. The news sent people on a whirlwind of dissatisfaction and outrage with the company. Timelines and news feeds that were once filled with people praises and debates over chicken sandwiches were now replaced with upset customers
While Popeyes’ reasoning was that they were out of stock due to high demand, customers didn’t take that as an answer and continued to take to social media to voice their upset. This however, turned out to be just as good a marketing ploy for the company as when it had fans raving about the chicken sandwich. “This event created a buzz around the Popeyes brand and built anticipation for the second coming of the sandwich,” Stuchel says. “The company did a good job keeping consumers involved in the entire process and with anticipated re-release dates.”
“The Second Coming of the Sandwich”
Finally after two months of anticipation and build up, Popeyes made the announcement everyone was waiting for, the sandwich was coming back. Better yet, the marketing behind the exact re-release date was even calculated. Not only was November 3rd, the day set for release, National Sandwich Day but it was also a Sunday, the one day of the week their rival Chick-fil-A is closed.
At last, customers could flock back to their chicken sandwich paradise to get a bite of the long-awaited delicacy, and flock they did. But when they arrived many weren’t greeted with the open arms and a warm experience they had envisioned. No, instead it seemed as if during the hiatus, all the company did was restock items and re-hype excitement on social media while forgetting to bolster the bandwidth in stores. Once again, customers were met with long lines and aggravation.
For most people, when the chicken sandwich first arrived in August it made sense that Popeyes didn’t have the man power to handle the crowds of people coming in for a bite. Surely they had no idea at the time the sandwich would gain viral traction and a massive following. But after months of social media promotion, all of which amassing to the return of the crowd-pleasing menu item, the marketing didn’t match the experience.
However, according to Stuchel this is a big issue with many fast-food chains. “Almost every quick-service restaurant is short-staffed and is in need of qualified employees,” he says. He argues that to have complete customer satisfaction, the need to be more than just a good product but also a good overall experience. “Having a great product is only one part of the customer loyalty equation. If you truly want to be the leader in any market with any product you have to have all aspects of the business working perfectly and offering an experience that is rewarding and memorable for the consumer.”
Order Up! What’s Next?
Now a few weeks removed from the re-release of the chicken sandwich, with lines starting to shorten and the online buzz getting a bit quieter, it begs the question of what is next for the fast-food industry. It almost comes as a surprise to those of us who have watched the culinary phenomenon develop over the past few months slowly fade to radio silence. But to Stuchel who has seen similar branding successes like this before, it’s not much of a shock at all. “I believe brand loyalty is very short-term,” he says.
But Stuchel believes that at the end of the day, it’s not so much a matter of dissatisfaction that causes customers to move on, but rather a sign of the times. “We are bombarded with this new-and-improved product, this lower-price product, this combo-priced product to the point that most consumers are not as brand loyal as they were years ago.” Instead, he says customers simply move on to the newest and greatest thing, regardless of the brand.
So what’s next? That’s a question for the fast-food chain restaurants. Now in this quiet in-between time of what’s to come, it’s fun to imagine that a marketing person from whichever chain is scratching their head, trying to find the best way to promote the next big thing.
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