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Thinker's Notebook

Which came first, the chicken or the meme?




If you were able to somehow live through the past seven days without hearing about the new Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich, please forward the address of the fallout shelter that you live in, and in the event of a nuclear holocaust, we can convene in your shelter and discuss every other pop culture wave you missed. Because the only way that you haven’t yet heard of this chicken sandwich is if you don’t have a smartphone, or the Internet, or a teenage nephew or niece, or a Facebook account, or cable, or electricity.

I heard about the sandwich from social media. I just woke up one morning, checked my newsfeed and people were talking about the new Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich. I don’t remember who the first person was that posted something about it. It was just there, in my Facebook feed, and in my Instagram feed, and in my Twitter feed, too. People talking about this sandwich, saying how great it was, or how it was better than Chic Fil-A, or how there were lines around the block to get one. Lines around the block? For a chicken sandwich? 

By the end of last weekend, this sandwich was the most trending news item in social media. There were posts about it everywhere. There were pictures of Popeye’s locations that had run out of sandwiches. There were dozens of memes dedicated to the cultural phenomenon that this sandwich had become. And there were reviews, dozens upon dozens of reviews about the sandwich. Some said that it was the best chicken sandwich they had ever had. The chicken tasted like utopia. The pickles tasted like chicken. The bun was so soft and buttery that it melted in your mouth the moment you bit into it. Others said that it was good, a quality chicken sandwich that could stand against them all – Wendy’s, Chic Fil-A, McDonald’s. Hundreds of reviews about a sandwich, and not one of them negative? Either this chicken sandwich is the Holy Grail or groupthink delivered in the form of social media posts–likes and shares had corrupted the idea of this sandwich.

Back in December of 2018, Netflix released a movie titled “Bird Box.” I heard of “Bird Box” pretty much the same way I heard of this chicken sandwich, through my social media newsfeed. I just woke up one morning, checked my feed and there were people talking about this movie. One person checked in, saying they were watching the movie; the next person said that they just watched the movie, and then there was yet another person saying how great the movie was. In no time at all, “Bird Box” had become the most trending term in social media for that weekend. Literally, everyone was talking about it. After hearing about it all weekend, I watched “Bird Box.” It was easily the worst movie I watched in 2018. It was horrible, not even close to being a good movie. And yet, it did so well that Netflix actually made a statement about its record-setting viewership – in spite of the company being well-known for always keeping notoriously silent about streaming numbers.


Social Media Marketing has grown and developed over the years into a very nuanced industry. The growth has been so sudden and expansive that if you read an article from 2018 about the industry, you can be assured that what you’re reading is all but obsolete. The more that corporations study and understand the interconnectedness that exists in the matrix of social media, the more these companies are beginning to realize the influence of a more intimate form of customer relations management. Ads popping up on banners and along the side of Facebook used to be revolutionary. Now it’s an archaic form. What works now is to reach your customer base where they spend the most time – on their newsfeeds, in statuses, in IG pictures, coming from the posts of their Facebook friends and Twitter followers. If Popeye’s would’ve purchased a banner to promote this new sandwich, I’d be writing about a totally different subject this week. Because no one would have cared. But if you use the right set of social media influencers to send the word out about the new chicken sandwich, in 24 hours, you can have 90,000 people posting about it, and in 48 hours, it could become an entire movement. People buy products. But people follow movements. 

I tried the new Popeye’s Chicken Sandwich. At best, it’s mediocre. You can’t even order the thing with cheese, lettuce or tomatoes. It’s a plain old, sodium-laced, processed chicken sandwich with a pickle and some mayo. However, if you haven’t tasted it yet and wish to try it, you’re going to have to wait a while. On Tuesday, Popeye’s announced that it was temporarily pulling the chicken sandwich from its menu. Why? Well, when they released it on August 12th, they assumed that they had enough inventory of sandwiches to cover all of their locations through the end of September. They’ve already run through that inventory as of August 27th. They sold two months’ worth of inventory in 15 days, and the memes keep coming.             

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