Would you get rid of 10 friends in exchange for a Burger King Whopper?
In January, many young consumers jumped on this incentive via a Facebook promotion that allowed members to eliminate 10 friends for the prize of a free Whopper. Keep in mind that Whoppers usually go for less than $2.00 anyway, making the value of an online friend less than 20 cents a person.
The promotion created quite a stir, and that’s exactly what Burger King wanted. Some Facebook members thought the concept was amusing, while others were insulted that they could be de-friended in exchange for a mere hamburger coupon. It wasn’t long, however, until Facebook put a stop to Burger King’s “Whopper Sacrifice” promotion. Although the application attracted about 82,000 Facebook users in just one week (and resulted in 233,906 friends removed), the problem was not that it was offensive but rather that it violated privacy issues. The app notified deleted friends, along with their friends via a public news feed, that they were “sacrificed for a Whopper.” Usually, no notification is sent when a friend is deleted.
Even though the application was disabled, the word-of-mouth and media buzz surrounding the “Whopper Sacrifice” was a big win for Burger King. The hamburger chain became a hot (and controversial) topic in the social-networking space. Facebook members even created a group to bring back the application.
Burger King isn’t the only fast-food chain generating attention from young tech-savvy consumers. Pizza Hut is targeting Facebook members with an application that allows members to order a pizza directly from its Facebook page (the page has well over 500,000 members). Meanwhile, Papa John’s has embraced a text-to-order campaign on its site, and Domino’s takes orders through TiVo.
Although some might argue that ordering a pizza in such a fashion complicates placing a simple order (why not just pick up the phone?), the approach is smart: Companies are catching the attention of consumers in places where they already spend time, whether it’s on social-networking sites or in front of the TV.
Subway is also jumping in on the action with its new text-to-order program currently being tested in Manhattan. Although the program just launched in January, the chain reportedly has seen a significant jump in customer-visit frequency and larger average-order sizes.
Subway also experimented with mobile. In October, it tested a coupon program through a franchise location in Illinois that resonated well among area high-school students. As a result, the location reported an increase in sales.
Consumers are already embracing these initiatives from fast-food chains, but other retailers are still trying to find ways to reach young shoppers in relevant and engaging ways. Some retailers are already on Facebook, but not many are luring shoppers back to stores with unique promotions like the “Whopper Sacrifice.”
As for mobile, retailers are still struggling to get shoppers to opt-in to text-message marketing programs. But if consumers already feel comfortable cashing in coupons and ordering take-out on a handheld mobile device for fast-food chains, there’s certainly room for retailers to get in on the action—they just have to strategize on how best to do it.
For more insights on how retailers are reaching out to Gen Y, visit my blog “The Y’s Choice” at