If you don’t live in New Orleans, you’re missing out this time of year. As of three days ago, Carnival Season started, which means we have an excuse to eat delicious king cakes in all conceivable flavors and variations from now till Fat Tuesday (my personal favorite can be ordered and shipped fresh to your door….) New Year’s resolutions don’t last long here in NOLA). There’s only one thing that might fire up the spirits of New Orleanians more than king cake, and that’s the Saints.
Ever since the 2006 homecoming season following Hurricane Katrina, the city simply buzzes with enthusiasm and anxiety for the entirety of every NFL football season. Fans came a long way from the days of the “Ain’ts” — when ticket holders would cover their faces with brown paper bags out of shame — to the flamboyant costumes you see at home games today.
With the city’s history rooted in mystery and tradition, it’s no wonder fans are superstitious and set in their ways. And these traditions and superstitions are creating opportunities for marketers (including the Saints organization itself) as the excitement grows increasingly stronger with every week the team has stayed in contention.
Before the first playoff weekend, Saints head coach Sean Payton was determined to rally the troops, ignore the naysayers and bring home a victory. He brought back a tradition the players had been missing since the 2009 Super Bowl season: a feast of New Orleans’ own Popeyes chicken, biscuits and sides before away games. Among other things, he also changed the flavor of Gatorade the team drank before, during and after the game to lemon-lime.
He didn’t keep quiet about these changes, and neither did the Who Dats. They took to Facebook and Twitter and soon their superstitions caught fire. Whether this was dreamed up by the team’s marketers or not, it’s been very effective in driving consumer behavior.
When the Saints upset the Philadelphia Eagles in their first-ever road playoff victory, fans rejoiced and apparently ran to the closest Popeyes. On the way home, they stopped at their local grocery to pick up some lemon-lime Gatorade.
Donny Rouse, Managing Partner of locally owned Rouse’s Markets, told Fox 8 News that sales of lemon-lime Gatorade doubled in his stores since the week prior, so the stores were ordering additional shipments.
Dwayne Fontenette, Director of Company Operations at Popeyes, said, “We’re trying to make sure we have enough product and enough staff to service all of our customers.”
“If the Saints want Popeyes before every game, then it’s our job to make sure they have it,” Fontenette said.
You would think that the official chicken partner of the Saints might have its feelings hurt that the head coach was feeding the team chicken from one of its biggest competitors. But even scorned sponsor Raising Cane’s is dedicated to supporting the Saints, as demonstrated in my favorite ever social media reply to a Twitter call-out by local news reporter Travers Mackel.
— Raising Cane’s® (@Raising_Canes) January 5, 2014
Popeyes’ social media team was already making the most of the buzz about its chicken on Twitter. The hashtag #BringTheChicken first appeared on December 30th as fans anticipated the first postseason game, and the first of many reports surfaced highlighting the Saints’ Popeyes ritual.
— Popeyes Chicken (@PopeyesChicken) December 30, 2013
Although Popeyes likely already planned to focus on football in its social media marketing this time of year, the team has seized this golden opportunity to “take it to the house.” Much of the content is strategically vague enough that it could apply to any football team, but here and there, Popeyes adds just the right amount of Who Dat to hype up Saints fans. Yesterday, the team’s chicken was transported in an armored vehicle. Tacking on the #WhoDat hashtag on Twitter and Facebook helped generate more local buzz.
The number of people “talking about” Popeyes and new likes per week on Facebook have skyrocketed since the topic exploded on social media in late December. From the looks of rudimentary insights to Popeyes’ likes, the page’s best week for new likes generated since early December was ~3,700. Since around January 1st, it appears the page has gained over 8,400 new likes.
The Saints’ official Facebook and Twitter accounts have remained quiet about the Popeyes hype, likely due to their contractual agreement with Raising Cane’s as the official chicken partner, but the players themselves are contributing from their personal accounts. Punter Thomas Morestead mustered up a combined ~700 retweets and favorites on a Twitpic of himself grabbing his Popeyes before boarding the plane to Seattle yesterday.
Popeyes Chicken at the airport #WhoDat #Saints #BeatTheSeahawks pic.twitter.com/XdtJ1fFtPH
— Thomas Morstead (@thomasmorstead) January 9, 2014
“WHO DAT” pic.twitter.com/rvTePvpZeH
— Sean Payton (@SeanPayton) January 9, 2014
Coach Payton and the Saints players are clearly well aware of the love connection between their fans and traditions. If the team eats 3 chicken wings, a biscuit and fries before each away game, so must the fans. If the team changes its preferred Gatorade flavor, so must the fans.
Regardless of whether the Saints make it to the Super Bowl this year, Popeyes, Gatorade, and local New Orleans grocers have already begun reaping the benefits. In the wise words of Bud Light, “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.” Who dat!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.