How Popeyes Chicken Sandwich Crossed the Road: raceAhead

August 29, 2019, 6:26 PM UTC

Popeyes Chicken brought the curtain down on one of the most extraordinary episodes in fast food marketing this week when they posted a video on Twitter that was one part highlight reel, two parts ‘sorry, not sorry’: “Y’all. We love that you love The Sandwich. Unfortunately, we’re sold out (for now).”

The chicken sandwich debuted on August 12, and within mere moments, was the talk of the social feeds. Lines formed at Popeyes stores around the country. Other fast food brands took to Twitter to trash talk, turning it into the Chicken Wars. Now, it looks like the chicken-crazed throngs ate their way right through the company’s supply chain. 

In this recent op-ed piece, Andrew McCaskill, a data analyst, investor, and a SiriusXM contributor who focuses on intersections of culture, diversity, and economics, says that black consumers were the key reason behind the runaway success of The Sandwich:

“Almost immediately, digitally connected Black America weighed in on the sandwich’s taste, availability and inevitable decimation of the reigning king of fast food chicken, Chick-fil-A. Largely driven by Black Twitter, pictures, memes and videos flooded social media for hours, causing the sandwich to sell out all over the country and rival Chick-fil-A’s digital team to turn chicken fingers to Twitter fingers. This was to the tune of almost $25 million in free marketing for the new chicken sandwich contender. All without needing the resources of one Black media outlet.”

The free marketing extended to print, television, and radio, by the way. Everyone got in on the action. 

While it’s all been a lot of fun, McCaskill says corporations have to be prepared to show their customers the beef. “Is it enough for an organization simply to do no harm, especially if the chicken and bun taste like magic? Do brands owe the consumers who support and champion them some measure of reciprocity?”

He offers a helpful list of questions he believes that black consumers have a right to ask of the companies that surf behind their powerful digital wakes. They speak to corporate authenticity, and are emblematic of the types of questions that the people who lead major brands should increasingly expect to be asked—in public—when they seek to create engagement around their products, particularly from groups who have historically been excluded from their ranks:

1. Does the CEO of this company have any Black executives reporting to him/her?

2. Does this company support Black advocacy groups like NAACP, NUL, BLM?

3. Does the company support political issues that protect the Black community?

4. What percentage of franchise owners are Black?

5. Does the company spend money with Black vendors and entrepreneurs?

6. Does the company hire and promote Black employees in the stores and at the corporate level?

7. Does the company support Black community events, education initiatives and Black-owned platforms with advertising dollars?

I’d like to add some special sauce to question number six.

During the frenzy, someone posted a photo of a black woman in a Popeyes uniform sitting outside her store, slumped over, head in hands, clearly exhausted. That picture did not go viral for a very good reason—Black Twitter wasn’t in the mood to let her become more overwhelmed than she already was.

While there may now be a case study for social ignition around chicken sandwiches, there is no such interest in the needs and well-being of the many people who turn the cranks behind the sizzle, in this case, feeding and cleaning up after mobs they never saw coming. 

In jobs with already limited upsides, they just get more work

On Point

Palantir dropped as Grace Hopper Celebration sponsor due to its work with ICE has removed Palantir as a sponsor for its women in tech conference, Grace Hopper Celebration. Palantir, which recently signed a contract with ICE for almost $50 million, provides software that ICE uses to collect data on immigrants. We do our best to promote the basic rights and dignity of every person in all that we do,” said Robert Read, vice president of business development and partnership success, in a statement on the decision. “Palantir has been independently verified as providing direct technology assistance that enables the human rights abuses of asylum seekers and their children at U.S. southern border detention centers.” The move comes after a petition, which has over 300 supporters, called for Palantir to be removed as a conference sponsor. The petition also calls for improvements in the conference sponsor vetting process. Business Insider

Where diversity initiatives are falling short (and what to do about it) African Americans are just 8% of managers, and 2% of Fortune senior executives, yet they’re 12% of the workforce, according to this HBR IdeaCast episode. Despite the push for diversity and inclusion initiatives, “disparities continue to persist” in career advancement, outcomes, and satisfaction, says Laura Morgan Roberts, co-author of the book Race, Work, and Leadership: New Perspectives on the Black Experience. There are several reasons: Many don’t feel workplace “authenticity,” others don't feel supported, and experience a constant questioning of authority. Roberts poses this question: “How do we put in place the structures, the systems and the social support that will enable African Americans and others of different racial backgrounds, including whites, to be able to lead most effectively?” Give this a listen for some recommendations on how to do just that. Harvard Business Review

Flint, Mich. schools are struggling to meet the needs of kids affected by lead in the water supply One in five or 20% of Flint school kids now require special education support, up from 13% in 2012, the year before the water crisis began, reports Education Week. The already overburdened and underfunded school system is struggling to meet the federal requirements necessary to get essential funding. A group led by the ACLU has sued the school system, the Michigan education department, and the county school district on behalf of parents. The lawsuit does not blame the increased need for special education solely on the lead exposure, but it’s a factor. Families drank, cooked, and bathed in lead-contaminated water for 17 months before the problem was discovered; lead-based paint in older homes is also an issue. "The combination of lead in paint and lead in water is a double whammy," says epidemiologist and pediatrician Philip Landrigan. Education Week

A new lawsuit aims to hold white supremacists accountable for the violence in Charlottesville The suit, Sines v. Kessler, is hoping to make the case that the organizers behind the 2017 Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., planned the violence that killed counter-protestor Heather Heyer and injured and terrorized many more. Integrity First for America (IFA) is the nonprofit who is bringing the suit; in a clever strategy, they're using an 1871 law designed to help formerly enslaved people from becoming victims of vigilante violence. "[The organizers] talked about which weapons to bring, cracking skulls and even whether they could claim self-defense if they drove cars into protesters, which is, of course, exactly what happened," IFA’s executive director told NPR. NPR


On Background

The New America Festival sounds like a party The New American Economy (NAE), a bipartisan research and advocacy firm focused on immigration policy, is hosting a festival to celebrate the many ways immigrants have contributed to American life. The festival, which takes place in NYC over the September 14th weekend, looks to be filled with food, art, culture, comedy, music, and a welcoming spirit. Padma Lakshmi, Marcus Samuelsson, Hasan Minaj, Min Jin Lee—and an interactive art piece co-created by author and genius Jonny Sun!—and host of others will be on hand. While you prep for the party, check out the NAE’s Cities Index, an interactive tool that measures successful "immigrant integration" on a variety of metrics, including socioeconomic outcomes and inclusive policymaking. New American Festival

You know what else sounds like a party? Nice theater kids doing Instagram right It started as a way for teen "theater nerds" to connect around the musicals they love. But now it’s become a #fakecasting production, where shows are announced, auditions are held, decisions are made, and a cast list is posted. But that’s it. There’s no show. It’s the brainchild of 14-year-old Shane DeCamp, who along with his best friend, are two of the casting directors. Teens who want to participate DM a video of themselves singing a selection from a musical—often without showing their faces or using their names—and wait for the cast list to appear. This summer, DeCamp and company held fake casting calls for Wicked, Les Misérables, Mean Girls, and Heathers. It’s drawing teen talent from around the world, who are enjoying being part of the kind of community they don’t have at school. "Everyone is super nice and builds each other up," said one regular auditioner. "We’re all pretty much no-negativity, and it’s just a safe place for theater people to come and share their nerdiness." Buzzfeed News

When male unemployment rates outpace those of women, incidents of sexual harassment increase Sexual discrimination claims made to the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are up by about 10% in the last 20 years, so Dan Cassino, a researcher and an associate professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson, tested a social explanation as to why. His analysis of available federal data shows that areas experiencing an increase in male unemployment rates (with no comparable increase in for women) leads to more sexual discrimination claims. His lab studies were equally fascinating. A computer-based test purporting to study "visual memory" between participants, found that when a sub-group of men were told women were better than men at the assigned task, they were more likely to send pornographic images to women, even when the women—who were researchers—objected. When a female participant self-identified as a feminist, men were also more likely to send unwanted pornographic images. Harvard Business Review

Tamara El-Waylly helps write and produce raceAhead.

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“[The pro-KKK film ‘Birth of A Nation’] really solidified the way white people thought of black people and fried chicken... It's a food you eat with your hands, and therefore it's dirty... Table manners are a way of determining who is worthy of respect or not... How it's possible to be both a taboo and a corporate mainstream thing just shows how complicated race in America is.”

- Professor Claire Schmidt on the history of racist ideas around black people and fried chicken

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