Published on: September 10, 2019
by Michael Sansolo
In today’s social media fueled world, where the smallest utterance can set off a tornado, companies have just gotten another powerful lesson about the unintended consequences of raising their voices. In other words, don’t poke a bear (or in this case, a chicken) without expecting something to happen.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, you must have heard of the great chicken war of 2019. It started when Popeye’s announced a new chicken sandwich. It came with a pack of commercials and as much fanfare as the company could muster. But it surely wasn’t that big a deal.
Chick-Fil-A, the far more dominant quick serve outlet in the world of chicken took a mocking shot at Popeye’s with a tweet. Fifteen minutes later, Popeye’s responded in kind and somehow the world shook. If you want proof I can take you to the closest Popeye’s near my home which now, like so many of the company’s outlets, has a handwritten cardboard sign on its menu board.
The sign offers regrets that this Popeye’s location is out of chicken sandwiches.
Chick-Fil-A’s little swipe set off a chain of events that has upended the world of chicken sandwiches and has given Popeye’s a level of sales and publicity that no one could have anticipated. Go figure.
The tit-for-tat chicken war has drawn near global media attention. Seeking Alpha, a website covering market events, tracked the staggering growth of Popeye’s social media presence in the days after the exchange.
Countless other media sites - including the New York Times - have written about the incredible aftermath, including the challenges Popeye’s is facing as it tries to somehow fill its supply chain with enough chicken to satisfy the unexpectedly explosive consumer demand.
There is a lot to learn from the chicken war of 2019. First, despite the ubiquity of quick serve restaurants, there clearly remain some unfilled demands, especially for products that feature improved tastes. I haven’t tasted Popeye’s new offering yet, but the reviews I’ve read praise it for delivering on the advertised promise of better taste. (For the record, I want to taste it. I’ve tried to taste it. I just can’t find it anywhere. And I know for a fact that my MNB comrades, Kate and Kevin, have tried as well but have had no success.)
It’s a reminder that new products - especially those that improve the consumer experience - still matter and can still move the needle.
Second, it’s a painful reminder that social media is a weapon that few have figured out nor have a clear idea how to use. One would assume that Chick-Fil-A, a company that has weathered other social media storms, would have had the good sense of knowing when to talk and when to be quiet and would not have made this mistake.
Instead, it took a seemingly unnecessary shot at a lesser rival and supplied the oxygen to let that rival soar. Other companies should learn the lesson here that saying nothing is at times a far better strategy than speaking up.
It’s far too early to know who will eventually win the chicken war. If Popeye’s continues to struggle meeting demand the entire event may blow over quickly. Or perhaps, both chains will watch the pecking order change as “chicken-less” products, like one now being offered by KFC, take over.
It never gets dull does it?
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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