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What Wendy's, Chance the Rapper, and Spicy Nuggets Taught Us About Marketing

If you live under a rock, you may have missed Chance the Rapper requesting Wendy's to bring back spicy chicken nuggets late last week. At first, it wasn't anything too noteworthy.

Now, the internet being the way it is, and since Wendy's is already well known for their unpredictable social media antics, of course everything blew hilariously out of proportion pretty much immediately.

As of this writing it has been 2 days and 5 hours since Wendy's made the challenge for 2 million likes to bring back the spicy nuggets, and there have been 2.18 million likes and 440,000 people currently talking about this ordeal on twitter. For comparison sake, the most liked tweet on twitter sits at 4.47 million and the famous "Oscar selfie" taken by Ellen DeGeneres had 2.32 million likes. The most retweeted tweet of all time was a recent money giveaway from an eccentric Japanese billionaire, and the second most was- well, another meme from Wendy's.

Wendy's prevalence in the social sphere is no coincidence, and it's certainly not just for fun. There has been a direct correlation between Wendy's social impressions and revenue, highlighted by a meteoric rise in 2017 that saw a profit of $64 million. When the time is right, Wendy's follows a few main rules and has been winning because of it.

Let's go back a ways to the (in)famous McNugget Szechuan sauce situation. The hit comedy Rick and Morty, well known for it's fanatical fan base and integration into pop culture, had an episode that referenced a sauce that was discontinued from McDonalds in the late 1990's. Fans of the show quickly began petitioning for a return of the sauce, and McDonald's agreed with a grand announcement that the sauce would return.

Of course, McDonald's being the company that it is, everything went terribly wrong. McDonald's locations were only given 20 to 40 packets of the sauce each, prompting outrage and near-riots across many locations. Eventually McDonalds re-released the sauce to quiet the masses that felt let down, only for people to realize that the sauce was terrible.

It's easy to blame the fans of Rick and Morty for this mistake. Under any other circumstances they would've fully expected a trip to McDonald's to lead to disappointment, but believed a promise like this wouldn't be broken. Much like every McDonald's ice cream machine across the continental US on any given evening, it was bound to fail.

I say all this to offer a juxtaposition for Wendy's response, and their responses to date. When the boy they challenged failed to meet Wendy's imposed goal of 18 million retweets but did break a record on twitter for most retweets of a post, Wendy's went ahead and gave him free nuggets for a year and continued interacting with him on social media.

For Chance the Rapper's successful attempt to bring spicy nuggets back, Wendy's did not wait to address the victory. Obviously, their post acknowledging the successful campaign was wildly popular as well.

This is a tale of two companies that saw huge potential for free press, both capitalizing on it, and only one coming out on top. For Wendy's, this is a core part of their brand- they interact with people online in ridiculous ways, make wild promises, and stick by them. Their social media team works closely enough to the core management team to allow events to happen in a way that seems to all online onlookers as spontaneous. Bringing back a discontinued product line is no small decision, but they were able to pull it off as if it was part of a joke that all of their followers were in on. It's no surprise Wendy's has been gaining so many followers over the last few years; despite being less than half of the size of McDonald's by revenue, they are closing in on the same number of followers (while McDonald's follower growth has stagnated over the last year).

When Wendy's makes a promise online, people believe them. Timelines are set if they can be, and if not a general statement is made with a future guarantee (such as in the spicy nugget example). This trust in their online hijinks is just going to foster further viral impromptu campaigns, and I simply can't wait to see what they do next.

McDonald's, on the other hand, does not have the same baseline of trust. They have never been too terribly involved with viral campaigns on social media, preferring to instead keep a more corporate brand voice. When the szechuan sauce ordeal took off and McDonald's committed, they had no way of understanding what they were dealing with or what the implications were for not delivering on their promise. By waiting until after the event to do cursory research to find out what it is they even agreed to, the damage was already done. I'm not saying that this specific event will be a nail in the coffin for McDonald's by any extent, but it was surely a blow to the trust that an already distrusting Millennial population had in the fast food brand.

Updated on July 27th, 2019: I went to McDonald's today and ordered a coffee. After ordering and waiting about 15 minutes in the drive through, an exasperated worked appeared at the window and apologized profusely. Struggling to catch his breath, he said, "I know it's a total meme, but I swear to god this just happened. Our ice cream machine basically exploded and I've been fighting to shut it off. I'm sorry for the delay."

Now, to me, this was pretty great service since the employee was sincere in his apology and told me what had happened to cause the delay. Even so, he already had a very good idea of the level of service McDonald's usually provides and the level of trust that customers had in McDonald's to deliver on promises as simple as providing items ordered from the menu.

Baylen McCarthy is the Director of Media and Digital Innovation at Waters & Bridgman and offers a broad range of affordable digital marketing consulting services for small businesses. If you're interested in getting in touch with Baylen, shoot him an email or leave him a message.

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