September 18, 2019 | 57° F

What happens when social media turns meals into myths


ib-popeyes-sandwich-twitter
Photo by Twitter |

Very much like Rutgers, social media is a breeding ground. Its ground is so fertile that conversation about the most unworthy of items can be reproduced frequently and in such an intoxicating fashion that naïve college seniors may find themselves actually craving a Popeyes chicken sandwich. Shamefully, this is my story. 

In the waning weeks of summer, I became a scavenger of the viral phenomenon, a serial patron of the George Street Popeyes — which I had never even approached before. For four days straight, I made the trek to Louisiana's favorite chicken dispensary in the heart of downtown New Brunswick. Four days in a row I found the dreadful sticker plastered over the chicken sandwich column of the overhead menu: "Due to high demand, the Popeyes chicken sandwich is not in stock at this time. Please come back soon!"

Each day, the shock of the sandwich shortage grew even more agonizing. It was on the fourth day that I decided that I was on a mission, a mission to cross “consumption of the internet's most popular poultry” off of my lifetime list before the trend became irrelevant. So I got in my car and made a 25-minute drive through New Jersey rush hour traffic to the Piscataway Popeyes, and it was in the driveway of that Piscataway Popeyes that I became even more intoxicated by the sandwich's lack of availability.

There the sticker was plastered across the sandwich column of the drive-thru menu, and so I drove another 40 minutes to the East Brunswick Popeyes, where the dreadful sticker made its sixth appearance in a four-day span. 

As the sun set on a wasted day, I sat in the East Brunswick Popeyes parking lot thinking: "This sandwich must be crafted by the hands of a god." 

On the fifth day, I learned it was crafted by the hands of a devil. At 9:07 a.m., I called the George Street Popeyes to investigate the availability of the sandwich. The manager on the phone said they were in stock and to come on down and try it. 

When I got there, the dreadful sticker still sat there on the menu. I approached the clerk and asked if they had any more left. 

"Unfortunately … we do," he said. It was a statement that ever so slightly toyed with my emotions and made me that much more enthusiastic and invested in finally achieving my goal.

So of course, there was a catch. The starting price of the product was $3.99, but he insisted that he would only sell me a sandwich if I bought the $6.99 combo. I had no interest in Popeyes fries and a drink, but the social media frenzy had convinced me to neglect my monetary responsibilities for the sake of forgoing FOMO. 

So I accomplished my goal, and instantly regretted it. It was a sandwich reminiscent of public school cafeteria grub, but that of the pre-Michelle Obama school lunch reforms. I found myself mentally pressing "control+z" for hours following consumption and spent the rest of the day swallowing little bits of vomit. 

I was victimized, both physically and financially, by the social media hurricane of the Popeyes chicken sandwich, but in the wake of a disappointing breakfast I had an epiphany. 

What made me so submissive to the sandwich? It was the sense of demand around it. Had I been able to buy the sandwich on Day One, I would not have even entertained the idea of buying the $6.99 combo. But the emotional roller coaster that the cashier put me through, combined with four straight days of pursuit was a marketing campaign in itself, a psychological one.

As the old proverb goes, you always want what you can't have, and I believe Popeyes business executives knew that they could capitalize off of the tendency to conform among heavy social media users like myself. The frenzy surrounding the sandwich racked up $65 million in free marketing, with the majority of the memes surrounding the lack of availability, according to Forbes.

But how exactly can Popeyes, a chicken dispensary, run out of chicken sandwiches? Unless they never ran out at all.


Jackson Thompson

Sports Editor
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