Photos of Starbucks' Unicorn Frappuccino were everywhere you looked on social media. And if you weren't Facebooking, Instagramming or tweeting about the bright pink and purple drink, you were listening to people talk about it, because they'd seen it somewhere.
Also read, McDonald's will be the first fast-food chain to have mobile ordering at all US restaurants.
Ditto for Taco Bell's Naked Chicken Chips. And McDonald's french fry-tined stunt cutlery, the Frork.
Fast-food chains are going gaga on social media to promote products they hope will go viral. Likes, tweets and engagements translate into millions of dollars in sales as online influencers post their way to more firepower than Super Bowl commercials, and companies pitch menu items that create enough buzz to prompt mentions in Fortune 500 companies' earnings calls alongside (yawn) consolidated operating income.
"As you look at different restaurants, there's a pattern of introducing new products that surprise and delight consumers, and in a world where surprise and delight (rules) social, it has to be something business thinks about," said Jano Cabrera, spokesman for McDonald's, the company that invented not one new utensil, but two. A special straw -- called the S.T.R.A.W., which stands for Suction Tube for Reverse Axial Withdrawal -- was designed for the chain's limited-time Shamrock Shakes.
A successful new product only captures consumers' interest and gets them talking about it, Cabrera said. The TKO is when the company does something with it "that supercharges the conversation even further."
It worked with the Frork. According to the social data analytics company Talkwalker, which tracks online chatter, McDonald's had 69,000 social media mentions the day before the french fry fork was introduced vs. 123,000 the day of the reveal.
"If they see a spike in social media mentions and a spike in sales, it's safe to say there was a direct correlation," said Talkwalker CEO Todd Grossman. "These are highly sophisticated marketers and advertisers, and this is their living. ... They're not going to be right all the time, but they have to experiment."
Gone are the days of chains' extolling the deliciousness of their foods. Promotional materials highlight the exciting shtick and the limited time the food is available: Get this now ... and bring your smartphone.
Because of photos' role in social media strategy, the look of the food is key. The animal unicorn is usually depicted as dull white, not DayGlo. And is the chicken actually nude? No, it's breaded. But add a sexy word and you get a social bang.
The Unicorn Frappuccino probably will be a case study taught in business schools for years to come. Talkwalker found that Starbucks had close to 51,000 social media mentions the day before the sweet-to-sour drink was announced, compared with almost 72,000 the day it was unveiled -- and more than 177,000 the day after that, when it was available in stores.
Taco Bell's Naked Chicken chips were inspired by the success of the Naked Chicken Chalupa this winter. For that product, Taco Bell teamed with the website Foodbeast and invited more than 70 "influencers" -- food bloggers and Instagram foodie stars -- to events in different cities. These selected few sampled the menu item before it launched, and some spread the word to their fans.
"The photographs of the Naked Chalupa spread like wildfire," said Rob Poetsch, Taco Bell's director of communications and engagement.
The chain sold more than 25million of those Chalupas in five weeks. That's an estimated $75 million in sales.
And even if a wacky new menu item's viral success doesn't get all the customers to order it, all the buzz gets people in the door.
"All restaurants are ... trying to differentiate themselves," said restaurant consultant John Gordon of the Pacific Management Consulting Group. "All the franchise brands have a duty to be able to connect with their customers somehow."
SOURCE USA Today
News & Updates
Stay informed with the latest news around foodservice, agriculture and other related food news.