The conversation surrounding the social media feud has rarely been substantive.
One of the general ideas behind the free market is that competition is good for the consumer, and this is arguably true when competition drives prices down and makes products more affordable and accessible. Price-matching, for example, is a recent extension of this phenomenon, by which mega-corporations with cash to burn and grudges against small businesses can easily drive the little guy away. This saves you 30 cents on your paper towels, but it also makes our country just a little more WalMart Brand Blue.
But what about competition that does nothing? What about competition that doesn’t improve the consumer’s life in any tangible way — generally making it more difficult than before by driving demand — while creating nothing but profit for share- holders and upper executives? What if, say, a restaurant added an item to their menu to rival another restaurant’s signature item? What if the price difference was negligible, and the difference in taste inevitably came down to subjectivity and the quality of location? Well, you’d have free advertising nationwide for both of those businesses, and a lot of happy executives.
On Aug. 12, Popeyes unveiled a new chicken sandwich from their menu. Chick-fil-A later posted a picture on their social media calling themselves the home of the “original” chicken sandwich. Popeyes responded with a simple tweet reading “… y’all good”, and the “Sandwich War” had begun. Though neither restaurant fanned the flames much — if at all — media outlets and prominent Twitter accounts ran with the interaction as the beginning of some sort of conflict, and the need to compare Chick-fil-A’s signature item with Popeyes’s new product was insatiable.
I’m willing to bet that one of the higher- ups in Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc. recently called one of the higher-ups at Chick-fil-A, Inc., shared a hearty laugh and made plans to golf at Mar-a-Lago as soon as it’s dredged up from the waters of Hurricane Dorian (perhaps the government’s first act of relief following the storm). How lucky they were, indeed, that this “competition” of theirs has almost certainly driven massive profits for both franchises. No one lost here — it doesn’t matter which restaurant moved more product this quarter, because the sheer amount of free advertising they’ve received has more than likely led to more sales than they were expecting, anyway. This is the sort of thing that Hardee’s/Carl’s Jr. wished would have happened when they tried to rival the Wendy’s “4 for 4” with their short-lived “5 for 5,” or when they unveiled a third-pound burger to rival the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder.
Menu item competitions like this crop up all the time, often without results like the “Sandwich War,” but it’s likely that executives on both sides of any potential “food war” are always praying for it to take off like this chicken sandwich debacle has. It can’t be overstated that both companies benefit — every time — and that the consumer sees no change, except perhaps a slightly less convenient dining experience, as the sheer popularity of both restaurants during the “food war” tends to skyrocket. The Popeyes Twitter account posted a video on Aug. 27 showing, among other things, a bird’s-eye view of a street backed up with cars trying to jam their way into the drive-thru. I saw the ridiculous lines at Chick-fil-A, myself, over the past week. An employee told me that the lines are even worse in the morning, backed up to the street, just like the video posted by Popeyes.
This isn’t even about which sandwich is better anymore. It probably never was. All it took was one tweet from Chick-fil-A after the announcement of Popeyes’s own Chicken Sandwich, and the Twitter war had begun. Plenty of woke companies and wig-snatching abound, and the waters of free advertising began to flow. Reuters reported on Aug. 23 that Popeyes had as much free advertisement as an estimated $23.25 million could have bought them. They did not provide a figure for Chick-fil-A, but I’m willing to bet the number is comparable because, after all, it’s the Sandwich War. There are two combatants, and one can’t be mentioned without the other.
Let’s not even discuss the ethics at play: the staggering amounts of chickens that had to die for the sandwiches, and the stagger- ing amount that will certainly be panic-slaughtered to fit the shortage that Popeyes hadn’t expected (I’m not even speaking as a vegetarian on this point, but the numbers boggle); the certainty of exploitation somewhere down the line in both of these massive chains known for mass-producing cheap products (another feature of capitalism); the differing theologies or lack thereof with each company (some may choose to support Popeyes over Chick-fil-A because of the latter’s inexplicable public stance on same-sex marriage and abortion rights, among other things).
Let’s just set down our torches and realize for a moment that we were part of a maniacally successful marketing scheme that made some rich men even richer. We bought some greasy chicken, damn near poisoned our own bodies with it and tweeted about it, thus expanding the number of future chicken to be bought and consumed and tweeted about — at least until one of the restaurants ran out of the beloved chicken- food, at which point the rabble gathered at the gate and began chanting for more, more, more, while somewhere in a dark, concrete complex, tens of thousands of chickens lay shivering in their own filth, their expiration dates pushed forward by that much more.
Doesn’t it kind of make your stomach hurt? It might just be all that grease. Wash it down and take another bite.