On August 19, 2019, #TheChickening came home to roost when the Popeyes Chicken Twitter account tweeted two simple words in response to Chick-fil-A: “Y’all good?”
Naturally, we all wanted to know the face(s) behind such a tweet. Then, I, along with the rest of Black Twitter, noticed a pic floating around of this year’s Brandweek and spotted a lone black girl in a staff group photo. We all concluded that she had to be the one we were looking for. That black girl was Angela Brown, Social Strategist at GSD&M, a national ad agency based in Austin Texas.
In real life, though? It was a “team effort,” according to Brown. Speaking of team, Brown was joined by her coworker, Randy Romero, GSD&M Associate Director, Social Media Strategy as we all sat on the phone talking about the agency’s initial digital campaign for the Popeyes chicken sandwich, the conflicting feelings of a black person working for a fried chicken brand, the “decidedly black voice” trend amongst social media accounts of today, whether they prefer the classic or spicy chicken sandwich and more.
The Popeyes social media account certainly isn’t the first or last to incorporate black-influenced slang into their tweets. There has been a noticeably black-ass shift in tone for social media copy. When done right, it’s great! But, when it’s done incorrectly and insincerely? Whew, chillay. Tragic.
“I’m not a fan of brands that do that, who use AAVE [African American Vernacular English] to sound hip or cool, [in order to have] proximity to black culture,” Brown noted. “I think that definitely happens more often than not. And it’s just because black culture influences every other culture, mass culture. [...] And with Popeye’s based in New Orleans, it’s without a doubt influenced by black culture [...] We’re always trying to strike that balance between being relatable and being inclusive.”
Though Popeyes isn’t alone in the way they engage their potential customers, you have to admit they had something special. With two words and the classic marketing tactic known as word-of-mouth, a fried chicken sandwich transformed into a pop culture phenomenon.
In fact, GSD&M had a thorough marketing campaign planned that they eventually scrapped because this organic happenstance, well, fucking worked like a charm.
“We were working on this thing for probably a good four months because we knew that this was going to be a staple product for Popeyes,” Romero recalled. “We’d been working day-in and day-out. Like I said, we have a whole creative team that was involved in creating this campaign. The funny thing is, the campaign actually was going to be mainly coming from social. So we DM’d, I think, over a hundred people to ask if we can use their hot take about this sandwich. Yeah. We had a TV spot that included real tweets and real people.”
Of course, GSD&M has a whole range of clients that are not named Popeyes, but let’s face it, Popeyes is the headliner right now. As Brown puts it, it’s a brand that “black Twitter and the black community rides for” which means we have this “social currency.” Fried chicken is fucking delicious and everyone loves it, yet because racism continues to thrive, there is a specific sociopolitical attachment to black people. We’ve all heard the racist tropes about fried chicken and watermelon. So, we had to ask Brown: Does working for a fried chicken brand make her feel a way?
“I won’t lie to you. Yes,” Brown admitted. “I feel a way working with something that involves fried chicken. There’s stereotypes [that are] rooted in racism, unfortunately. So, it does make it hard to have to work through some of that, constantly. When I’m in the room, I represent the community, the black community, automatically. As a black woman, when ideas are pitched, I like to look at it through multiple lenses. Not only am I looking at it through the social lens, but also the cultural lens because I want to push for the culture in a positive way.”
Of course, like many black workers in corporate industries, that is a heavy weight to carry alone. Especially as we look at the numbers of true gatekeepers. According to a 2018 report by the Association of National Advertisers, people of color make up only 13% of CMOs (Chief Marketing Officers) or CMO equivalents: 5% are Hispanic/Latin, 5% are Asian and 3% are black.
“We want to go far beyond just this tweet,” Brown said. “This tweet could’ve been gone and then you make the money for the company and that’s it, but it’s way, way, way more important than that. It’s about representation and the makeup of the industry. The industry feels dry. It can look dry. And so we want to liven that up a bit and we want to show people that the value that exists and they may not be seeing.”
Popeyes social media campaign was so effective, not only did consumers have to engage, but so did fellow (and competing) brands. The campaign evolved into a hilariously fun Twitter war, with brands like Chick-fil-A, McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, and other restaurants joining in to boast about their own chicken sandwiches. Simply put, everyone not named Popeyes was shook. But, we had to ask the GSD&M team if that beef was real, or do all the brand social media managers, as I’ve imagined, really sit in their private WhatsApp kiki-ing over the manufactured conflict? Basically, is it really all in good fun? Brown confirmed they do, in fact, have an internal WhatsApp channel that is “constantly on fire” discussing all of the articles, as well as a channel with their clients.
Because we pride ourselves on serious investigative journalism, we had to do a rapid-fire series of important questions:
For Brown, it’s “spicy,” all the way.
“I’ll take it, as long as it’s not Chick-fil-A,” Romero quipped. Ha! The shots continue to fire!
“Nah, we have to wait [in line] just like everybody else does,” Brown confirmed. Popeyes celebrity social, they’re just like us!
Trust, y’all are so brilliant and hilarious, it was hard for Brown and Romero to choose just one, but there were a few of note.
“@eveewing, she’s an author. I remember I sent [her tweet] to the group because it was so funny and this actually had informed our second round of strategy,” Brown said.
“The sheer talent and range of creativity that people took from this to tweet and ran with it, just is phenomenal” Brown added. “The range that black people specifically have to make these moments happen in culture. [...] Seeing how they were able to pivot and turn anything that might have been slightly negative into positive and just use so much humor. This just showed me how much we’re able to do that when it comes to black culture.”
“TBD [To Be Determined], review cycle is coming,” Brown chuckled.
Okay, because they certainly deserve one. And yes, I did tell them to please update me once said review cycle has come and gone. *wink*
Brown and Romero, we rooting for y’all! I want a Popeyes chicken sandwich now…