Pathmatics Blog

Feeling Spicy: How Popeyes served up digital ad dollars to promote new chicken sandwich

December 18 2019

It's the hottest thing to happen to fast food since the return of the McRib, making waves across the nation and creating a high demand that seemed to surprise even creators themselves. Of course, we're talking about the Popeyes chicken sandwich. And of course, with the recent wave of attention the brand has received, we had to know--are their digital ads reflecting their newly invigorated popularity? Does Popeye's even run digital ads? What about its competitors? 

The answer is yes, yes, and yes. 

Which came first: The chicken or the ad?

If we're being honest, we had a hypothesis when we began writing this article. It went like this: Popeyes increases digital ad spend significantly in the wake of chicken sandwich hype. Creatives mostly center around said sandwich, spending increases mid-summer through December.  Unless you work for Popeyes or a competitor brand, this might have been your line of thinking as well. A look at the data, however, reveals a slightly different trajectory, 

Here's where we got it right:

Popeyes did increase their digital ad spend throughout the year. And, not only did spending double from the first half of the year to the second half, but 2019 YTD spending has almost doubled compared to 2018, up from $1.5 Million last year to $3.9 Million so far this year. 

The fried chicken joint put a portion of ad dollars toward the new sandwich offering, though they did so much earlier than we could have anticipated (See "Sandwich sneaks into Newsfeeds" below), suggesting a well-planned and hyper-targeted approach to testing their new sandwich before it went mainstream. 

And here's what we missed:

While sandwich ads dominated the company's digital ad strategy from March through August, sandwich-related advertising all but ended in September. And although Popeyes brought back the famed sandwich in early November, their digital advertising did not reflect its triumphant return. Where did all the ads go, and what replaced them? See "The VooDoo Tender Takeover" below.

Sandwich sneaks into newsfeeds: A Geo-targeting story

In an article by USA Today, Popeyes mentions the love their chicken sandwich received in test markets prior to launch. How did these test markets find out about said sandwich? Perhaps in part from a series of ads targeted directly to unknowing test subjects.

PopeyesLouisianaKitchenInc._Creative_All Devices & Formats (2)

Pathmatics Explorer picked up its first chicken sandwich ad in early April of this year, where a series of Facebook videos featuring the chicken sandwich appeared on Facebook with the CTA "Get Directions."  All of these ads are in Spanish. Interestingly, 11% of Popeyes Facebook ads during April were targeted toward Dallas, Texas, a city where nearly 40% of the population speaks Spanish, according to Datausa.io. 

By May we see a good mix of English and Spanish language ads for the not-yet-officially launched sandwich, alongside non-sandwich creatives for chicken tenders and oversized sodas. Ads still target Dallas, with high spend share in Houston, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and San Francisco/Bay area.

This is in direct contrast to the first few months of the year, where high-target areas for the fast-food chain also included Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Denver.

By August, we again see a shift, with New York and St. Paul (Minneapolis) getting the most targeted spend, followed by Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Hartford. Dallas, Houston, and San Francisco only index at 1% of Popeyes geo-targeting strategy on Facebook. At this point, 10 out of the top 10 creatives in Explorer are for the sandwich. 

Top creatives for Popeye's in August 2019

The VooDoo Tender takeover

September marked the month of the great chicken sandwich shortage, accompanied by an (not-paid) social campaign by the company prompting diners to BYOB (thats "bring your own bun"). While these videos showed up across Twitter and YouTube, no digital ad dollars went toward the campaign. Instead, Popeye's stayed relatively quiet throughout September, saving their ad dollars for the launch of their vaguely Halloween-themed VooDoo chicken tenders launch in October. 

As you can see from the monthly spend chart, the month of October garnered the highest spend of the year by far, jumping from essentially nothing in September up to almost $2 Million in October. Ad creatives are split between the new VooDoo Tenders and a somewhat straight-forward plug to wash down your tenders with a Minute Maid Frozen Lemonade (insert shrug emoji). Chicken sandwich creatives, however, have left the building. 

The most common VooDoo Tenders ad captured by Explorer reads, "Now you can get Popeyes $5 Voodoo Tenders delivered straight to your door. It's like magic..." with the CTA "Get Directions," which loads a link to Google Maps and your nearest Popeyes location when you click on it.

If you're reading this, Popeyes, we just have one question. Who exactly are the directions for? How do we get our tenders delivered? We feel like we're missing something.

While we all ponder that question, we'll just go on the record and say that we hear both the sandwich and the tenders are...um...finger lickin' good? Oh wait. Sorry, KFC--we didn't mean to drag you into this, too. We'll just leave this here instead (courtesy of Adweek).

About Author

Sarah Fleishman

With almost a decade of experience across digital marketing, content, creative, and PR, Sarah is a creative and dynamic thinker who loves to delight clients with unique and relatable content. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Sociology.

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