Popeyes spicy chicken sandwich launch heats up social media

By Arriana McLymore

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A sign posted inside a Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in the Queens borough of New York on Friday said the restaurant was out of its newly launched fried chicken sandwich. Other outlets in the city were also sold out.

"Be back soon," one sign read.

Popeyes, the Cajun-inspired fast food chicken chain owned by Restaurants Brands International Inc <QSR.TO>, took social media by storm when it introduced its chicken sandwich and now customers from around the country are lining up for a chance to taste the new sandwich.

Popeyes launched its fried chicken sandwich on a buttered brioche bun with pickles on Aug. 12. The launch went mostly unnoticed until its rival Chick-fil-A tweeted a subtle jab referencing its fried chicken sandwich recipe as "the original."

Popeyes' response garnered more than 85,000 retweets and 300,000 likes and a surge of engagement online. Other fast food chains, including Wendy's <WEN.O> and Bojangles' <BOJA.O>, chimed in with tweets about their own chicken sandwiches, but they were not able to get the same attention as Popeyes.

Some experts say Popeyes' newfound visibility could change its customer base.

"Popeyes is not top five when it comes to naming restaurants in the U.S.," said Eric Smallwood, the president of Apex Marketing Group. "But this sandwich is putting them on the map in areas that don't have them."

Popeyes has more than 3,000 locations across 40 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

Apex Marketing Group recently released a report estimating Popeyes received $23.25 million in equivalent ad value.

Smallwood said the company would have had to pay for a multi-million dollar ad campaign to get the same engagement for the during the first 11 days of its launch.

(This story has been refiled to remove extra word in paragraph 7.)

(Reporting by Arriana McLymore; Editing by Marguerita Choy)