Culture

How The Hype For A Chicken Sandwich Resulted In Murder

The Popeyes chicken sandwich saga begins with a viral tweet, and ends in a stabbing.

Popeyes Chicken Sandwich meme

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Last week, the man who allegedly stabbed Kevin Davis to death over a Popeyes Chicken Sandwich was arrested.

At around 7pm on November 4th, 28-year-old Kevin Davis cut in line at a busy Popeyes in Oxon Hill, Maryland. According to the Prince George Police Department, after Ricoh McClain confronted him about his actions, the pair headed outside where Davis was fatally stabbed.

Beyond the recent death, there have been instances of assault, broken child labour laws and property damage as a result of the over-excitement for Popeyes new sandwich offering. In four short months the infamous sandwich, now synonymous with dangerous and irrational behaviours, has received stacks of negative press about the extreme lengths customers will go to get a taste.

But why and how has a simple chicken sandwich, or chicken burger as Australians would know them, created such widespread mayhem?

Popeyes And Their Relationship With The Black Community

Founded in Louisiana, Popeyes is a popular American fast food chain offering Louisiana-style fried chicken and Southern sides.

But when Popeyes founder Al Copeland opened Chicken on the Run in 1970, he didn’t find much success in selling plain fried chicken. It was only after rebranding and offering a spicier New Orleans-style chicken did Popeyes really take off.

According to Marcia Chatelain, an associate professor of history at Georgetown University, Popeyes spicier take on fried chicken catered to the black community. Fast food taste tests indicated that black customers preferred the use of spices, similar to those they used themselves at home, and looked for a “similar kick when they dined out”.

Despite not explicitly saying that they market to black communities, Popeyes continued use of black characters, like Annie the Chicken Queen, throughout their advertising efforts implies otherwise.

It is never said who Annie actually is but her repeated reference to Popeyes products as “my” suggests that she is the creator of the fast food chain. But Dick Lynch, Popeyes global brand manager, claims that they only use Annie to “represent Louisiana culture”.

That Tweet And The Undeniable Power Of Black Twitter

In August when Popeyes announced they would be offering a sandwich similar to those of their competitors, people were excited. A sandwich of chicken, pickles and mayo isn’t a new or fancy concept, but Popeyes deep roots in the black community at least guaranteed some success of the new menu item.

Shifting from real life to online, Popeyes had a stroke of luck, or genius, with a tweet that propelled the entire sandwich campaign. Through utilising Southern slang and by tapping into the power of black Twitter, Popeyes was able to organically promote their sandwich and sell out nationwide in just a few weeks.

The entire media plan that agency GSD&M created for Popeyes was derailed by the eight-letter tweet.

God-is Rivera, the global director of culture and community at Twitter, believes that this is a result of the “outsized impact” of Black Twitter. Black Twitter, a sub-community within the app, were the first to create buzz around the sandwich, and were the ones who made the tweet in question go viral.

Rivera continued, explaining that “it’s not just the platform, but who is on the platform.”

The Sandwich Wars And $65 Million In Free Advertising

Following the Popeyes sandwich launch, Chick-fil-A tweeted: “Bun + Chicken + Pickles = all the love for the original,” an obvious subtweet to Popeyes new product. In response, Popeyes simply responded with, “… y’all good?” which resulted in over 300,000 people interacting with the tweet.

According to Angela Brown, the social strategist responsible for the viral tweet, the slang which played on Popeyes Southern roots and shade against a company with “known conservative [with] anti-LGBTQ ideals” struck a cord with the community.

After going viral, the tweet was picked up by outlets world wide. It was so successful that it allegedly bagged the company $65 million worth of free advertising through social, TV, radio and print media mentions, according to Apex Marketing Group.

But these cheeky subtweets and jovial clapbacks for brands isn’t a new concept — but is one that proves successful time and time again. Wendy’s, a company that is no stranger to friendly banter and the power of Twitter, even weighed in on the Chicken War debate.

Wendy’s subtweeted Popeyes, likely in an attempt to leverage some free press in the trending conversation, but Popeyes fired back. Through poking fun at themselves and by using terms popular with Black Twitter, Popeyes was again able to have another viral smash that resulted in more free media coverage.

The Unexpected National Chicken Shortage

Luckily for Popeyes, the hype around the chicken sandwich didn’t stop at likes and retweets.

The media frenzy surrounding the sandwich turned into frenzied scenes at Popeyes stores across America: with long lines, angry customers, flustered staff, and sold out sandwiches.

Two weeks after its launch on August 12, the Popeyes chicken sandwich sold out nationwide. As a result of the viral chicken war increasing coverage of the sandwich and the glowing reviews pouring from social media, everyone had to get their hands on the sandwich. At any cost.

The hype around the sandwich was only fuelled further by popular mukbangers continuing the chicken war discourse that made the launch such a success. With Chick-fil-A vs Popeyes comparison videos flooding YouTube, the allure of Popeyes sandwich grew along with store lines.

Then before everyone knew it, the chicken sandwich was taken off the Popeyes menu. Initially starting with sandwiches only selling out at select locations, Popeyes announced that they sold out nationwide on August 28th.

This didn’t sit well with the curious customers who never got a taste. Reportedly meant to last until the end of September, hungry chicken fans were not happy that Popeyes couldn’t handle the demand that they created.

But in an attempt to pacify the angered, Popeyes launched the Bring Your Own Bun Campaign which, again, didn’t go according to plan. Inviting customers to buy a three piece tender box and bring their own bread, Popeyes tongue in cheek video received backlash online.

Already unable to handle the demand generated for their product, the BYOB campaign just brought attention to Popeyes inability to supply. The idea that a chicken restaurant could run out of chicken and buns nationally was laughable, and didn’t entice people to make their own.

The Second Coming Of The Chicken Sandwich

Following the failed BYOB campaign and success of the chicken war, Popeyes took another jab at their main competitor, Chick-fil-A, during the sandwich relaunch.

Popeyes announced that the chicken sandwich would fittingly return on National Sandwich Day on November 3rd. But in a tactical marketing move, National Sandwich Day happened to land on a Sunday, the one day Chick-fil-A is closed.

Despite the sandwich becoming a permanent menu item for the fast food chicken chain, people still subjected themselves to long queues and dangerous situations. The month-long wait and fear of the sandwich selling out again resulted in continued mass frenzy around Popeyes stores.

The hysteria over the chicken sandwich upon its return caused a multitude of legal problems, involving murder, assault and broken child labour laws.

In Maryland, a 28-year-old man was murdered over an altercation about cutting in line at a busy Popeyes. In Tennessee, a 55-year-old woman was body slammed by a Popeyes worker following a dispute billing issue for a meal. Most recently, a Popeyes employee in Texas was fired for bringing his 8-year-old son in to help make sandwiches for the busy location.

In the two weeks since the sandwich made it’s return, there have also been less serious instances of sandwich-related dramas.

Again in Maryland, a Popeyes employee was allegedly caught selling chicken sandwiches on the side at a mark up. In Virginia, a store was reprimanded for preparing food on a tray placed on a garbage bin. In Texas, an Astroworld festival attendee smuggled in chicken sandwiches and sold them to hungry concert-goers in the mosh pit.

And finally, a woman in California damaged her car while trying to cut through the drive-thru on her quest for a coveted sandwich.

Is The Sandwich Even Worth The Hype?

Beyond general customers, celebrities have also shared their opinions on the sandwich. With Justin Bieber saying that it “wasn’t worth the hype” and rapper Gunna sharing that “these sandwiches ain’t nothing.”

However Texan quarterback Deshaun Watson had kinder words to say and claimed that the Popeyes’ spicy chicken sandwich actually healed his injured eye and Serena Williams asked, “Have I known life before this day?” while enjoying hers.

Regardless of their opinions, all this celebrity buzz around the sandwich have people clamouring to get their hands on one and find out for themselves at any cost.

The whole Popeyes chicken sandwich craze has even shifted from social media to broadcast television by being parodied on Saturday Night Live in a skit titled “Lunch Run”. Harry Styles plays a clueless intern hellbent of buying chicken sandwiches for the office, unaware of the issues surrounding other people who have tried to do the same.

Then recently, Popeyes competitor Chick-fil-A announced they would no longer donate to anti-LGBTQ organisations.

While it can’t be said that Chick-fil-A made this decision in reaction to Popeyes recent success, it’s hard to not assume that it played at least a small part. Chick-fil-A, often praised for their amazing service and food, was only really ever criticised for two things: Its support of anti-LGBTQ group and its decision to close on Sundays.

Maybe Chick-fil-A’s decision will increase their customer numbers and sales, but only time will tell.

Despite the sandwich’s clear success with customers, we’ll never really know if all the hype Popeyes generated was worth all the issues it created.

All we do know is, it’s a great chicken burger — but one that’s worth dying over? Probably not.