How Popeyes kept up the buzz for its chicken sandwich

A social VIP list and murals helped the QSR remind consumers of how eager they were for the sandwich to come to Canada.

Popeyes caused a major buzz last year when it launched its first chicken sandwich in the U.S. Sell-outs were abound in most restaurants. Parent company Restaurant Brands International reported that Popeyes same-store sales were up 9.7% globally in the quarter following the sandwich’s launch, with brand president of Americas Felipe Athayde saying it “was obviously a very important driver of sales and of interest towards Popeyes.”

Canadians, obviously, were eager to get their hands on the sandwich as well. And to reward chicken sandwich-lovers here for their patience, Popeyes gave the most eager fans of the brand the chance to try it before it was released to the general public.

The QSR developed “The List,” a marketing play on Twitter – where questions about when the sandwich was coming to Canada was most active – allowing users to tag the restaurant and explain why they deserved to be on a list to get an advance opportunity to try the sandwich.

Rob Manuel, GM of Popeyes Canada, says the awareness and demand caused by the chicken sandwich’s U.S. launch in August 2019 meant introducing the product was not a major element of the campaign. Instead, it was about re-sparking interest in the sandwich a year after first hearing about it. In particular, it was about creating opportunity to bring in consumers who are less frequent Popeye’s customers, as interest in the sandwich among loyal fans had been stable.

“We wanted to focus more on access and that moment of, ‘It’s finally here,’ as opposed to trying to educate the guests on Popeyes having a chicken sandwich,” Manuel says. He adds that doing so is unique and aligns with the brand’s personality more, of fun, creativity and engagement. “It’s just unusual in this industry to have pent up demand for a product that hasn’t launched yet. As Canadians, there’s always these sorts of products that you hear about so much that are only available in the U.S. We felt like we had a unique opportunity.”

Due to Canadians’ familiarity with the product, Popeyes was able to make the sandwich the focal point in the campaign immediately, with an approach that used the idea of “advance access” to drum up excitement and anticipation. The push resulted in more than 184,000 impressions, over 1.3 million engagements, and 527 media coverage pieces in the two weeks before the sandwich launched on Sept. 14.

Aside from “The List,” which was handled by agency Bob’s Your Uncle, the brand used OOH and social advertising in major markets across Canada. Toronto’s Grassroots Advertising and Active International worked on OOH elements that included a giant mural painted in one of the city’s trendiest neighbourhoods, all of which aimed to remind Canadians of how eager they were for the product last year.

“We were able to leverage that user base of fans waiting to try this product, which we took as a kind of baseline, and they kind of became the springboard for awareness,” Manuel says. “The List” itself gave people a consolidated area to “funnel the conversation around demand,” both for people who wanted to be on the list, but also other followers on social media to be reminded of the initial buzz around the sandwich.

More than 760,000 sandwiches were sold in the first week in Canada, which Manuel says is ten times the amount of units as its first chicken sandwich that launched more than five years ago.

Canada is Popeye’s second-largest market with 233 locations, the second most of any region globally. Manuel says there’s still room for further growth and success, and a high-demand product is one way it has accelerated that.