(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)
One of the things any small business person should be doing to grow their businesses is to watch – and learn. This week’s marketing lesson comes from an American fast-food chain. Pencils ready?
It’s easy to get international attention for your business. All you need to do is take a chicken sandwich that sells for $3.99 and add $120,000. Then tape it to a wall. Then – and here’s the biggest thing – announce that if anyone does spend $120,003.99 for the sandwich you will donate the proceeds to charity.
That’s what American restaurant chain Popeyes did this week. The company’s marketing geniuses observed the attention that Comedian – that ridiculous $120,000 banana-taped-to-the-wall stunt pulled at Art Basel Miami – received and brilliantly leveraged the same exhibition’s media coverage by coming up with something just as ridiculous: the Sandwich.
It worked. Countless media outlets reported on Popeyes’ promotion, the stunt went viral and commentators around the world debated the merits of the Sandwich v Comedian. “If this fast-food stunt seems gauche and consumerist, that’s because it is,” wrote Eater’s Jenny Zhang. “What is art, as a multibillion-dollar industry, but a market that turns creative productions into commodities bought and traded by wealthy institutions and individuals? In that sense, the existence of Comedian and the Sandwich make perfect sense as objects of consumption.”
This is not just fun and games. It’s big business. Popeyes might be a large national restaurant chain but it faces the same challenges of any small merchant or restaurateur: getting attention for its brand in a very competitive environment. So they took a viral news story, put a funny twist on it that involves their own product and then made it all about the common good (ie a charity). The media loves this stuff. And I’m sure Popeyes is loving all the free press. Are you paying attention, small business owners?
No, the sandwich hasn’t sold yet even though a Popeyes representative told the New York Post that one fan has “shown interest”. It doesn’t matter. Marketing mission accomplished, and lesson learned.