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January 15, 2020

How Popeyes Turned a Mistake into a Win

Written by Don Scales
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There are no mistakes in advertising -- only opportunities. Case in point: when Popeyes Louisiana Chicken crashed “Family Feud Canada.”

On “Family Feud Canada,” a game show contestant named Eve Dubois cost her team $10,000 by botching what appeared to be an easy question: name the favorite food of the fictional character Popeye.

The right answer, of course, is spinach. Everyone knows that, right? But a contestant who has only a split second to name the correct answer on a high-pressure game show sometimes guesses wrong. And that’s what happened to Eve Dubois. She confidently answered “chicken” and did a victory dance as her horrified team reacted to $10,000 slipping away from their grasp.


And who can blame her? Popeyes is coming off a year in which the chain of chicken restaurants has enjoyed a tidal wave of publicity, with the launch of its chicken sandwich causing people to lose their minds.

Free Advertising for Popeyes

Of course, in the digital world, an innocent mistake can make you a viral sensation. And that’s what happened to Eve Dubois after a blogger tweeted about her gaffe. It wasn’t just the wrong answer that made the moment catch fire. Her premature celebration and then refusal to allow the mistake to embarrass her endeared Eve to the digital world, as did her cheerful explanation: “I thought you meant Popeyes Chicken!”

Bingo. Free advertising for Popeyes.

Popeyes acted swiftly. Rather than simply bask in the afterglow of the funny moment, On January 10, Popeyes announced on Twitter that Eve Dubois was now the winner of $10,000 worth of Popeyes chicken. 

Good answer, Popeyes. The tweet went viral and generated a flurry of positive news about Popeyes, like these headlines:

According to Popeyes CMO Fernando Machado, the food chain jumped on the opportunity after noticing reactions to Eve Dubois on social media. He told Adweek, “Our reaction was surprise, delight and laughter.”

And the light-hearted response from Popeyes reflected that reaction. According to Popeyes, the opportunity came at the perfect time. Popeyes is still establishing awareness in Canada, and Eve Dubois acted as an accidental brand ambassador in a fledgling market.

What Popeyes Did Right

Here’s what I like about how Popeyes handled this opportunity:

  • Popeyes acted quickly: The company didn’t waste time taking action after the gaffe went viral. This quick thinking was the result of strong real-time social media monitoring. Chances to tell your brand’s story don’t always announce themselves. You have to find and then act on them. That’s where social media monitoring comes into play.
  • Popeyes exercised good judgment: This situation was not risk free. By elevating an already-viral moment, Popeyes could have unwittingly singled out someone for ridicule. I wasn’t in the social media war room at Popeyes when the judgment call was made to create an ad, but the company must have sensed that Eve Dubois was an unflappable personality and that the tweet would make something of a hero out of her – which it did. (It was clear from her Facebook account that she was making the most of the moment.)
  • Popeyes told a bold story: By awarding Eve Dubois $10,000 worth of chicken, Popeyes created a narrative of its own: “our chicken is so good that you’ll gladly accept the gift of not just one meal but $10,000 worth of our food.” The news media coverage played right into the hands of the food chain. In discussing the award, journalists typically mentioned how the popularity of Popeyes spicy chicken sandwich made headlines in recent months. And that, my friends, is one very effective way of controlling your brand narrative.

In my book How to Manage a Values-Based Professional Services Firm, I stress the importance of strong brand storytelling. As I note in the book, brand storytelling when done right creates an emotional connection between your business and your audience. But sharing your brand’s story through digital is not always easy, especially in a high-contact sport like social media. Popeyes has a strong sense of its own story and how it wants to share that story (with humor, in the case of Popeyes).

How about you?

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