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Retail Foodservice

Food PR Stunts Do Have Repercussions

The Popeyes chicken sandwich debacle in context

The Lempert Report

E.J. Dickson writes in Rolling Stone that World War III will not be fought by explosives, nor by ammunitions, nor by cyberattacks. Instead, the weapon that will chiefly be used in the upcoming class wars will be a Popeyes chicken sandwich. A Popeyes chicken sandwich has driven people to sue the chain and even hold up stores at gunpoint. We are getting a little carried away I think.

Upon its release a few weeks ago, the Popeyes chicken sandwich dominated news headlines across the country, which quickly led to it selling out in all stores. The immense popularity of the sandwich spawned countless think pieces attempting to put the fried chicken wars into context; in a similar vein, it has also spawned a number of viral news stories about the lengths people have gone to acquire such an item. 

She writes that a Tennessee man filed suit against Popeyes, accusing the brand of false advertising after it ran out of sandwiches. Terrifyingly, on Monday a Houston man pulled a gun on employees when they informed him the sandwich was no longer in stock.

Laura Ries, the president of Ries & Ries and author of "The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR," told Dickson that the strategy of limiting supply in order to increase demand is firmly entrenched in American culture, stemming from the days of Coors Light, which became an in-demand item on the East Coast in the 1970s due to the fact it was only sold in 11 states in the West. 

“There’s this psychological aspect of people wanting what they can’t have,” Ries tells Rolling Stone, adding that she wouldn’t be surprised if Popeyes ran out of the sandwich on purpose in order to further fuel demand.

Dickson outlines an in-depth Eater piece on the subject, and says the formula is usually the same: A billion-dollar marketing team uses social media to launch into virality a product as Instagram-friendly as it is calorically appalling, until it sells out and/or is discontinued by the vendor, which in turn propels even more demand. Often, the item in question doesn’t even have to be very appetizing; in fact, the more unsavory, the better.

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