As General Patton once said, the object of war is not to die for your chicken sandwich, but to make some other bastards die for theirs.
OK, maybe that’s not the exact phrasing, but the context still stands: When you’re in a conflict, even a branded battle on Twitter, the best defense is a good offense.
In the past 24 hours, we’ve witnessed the opening volleys in a meaty melee for the hearts and minds of America’s chicken sandwich lovers. Coinciding, almost certainly not coincidentally, with this month’s debut of Popeyes’ chicken sandwich—described by the chain as its biggest product launch in 30 years—a Twitter battle has engulfed several brands in a debate about whose poultry is actually paltry.
So who’s winning? Here’s our ranking of the combatants as they stand now, though it’s almost certain that there are many more shots left to be fired.
No. 5: KFC
There’s zero chance KFC isn’t aware of the chicken sandwich wars raging on Twitter this week, yet the brand hasn’t made a peep.
Generously, you could argue KFC is, as a market leader, following Sun Tzu’s tenet that “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” But come on, this is the brand that invented the Double Down: a fried chicken sandwich where the buns are fried chicken! KFC even recruited The Mountain from Game of Thrones to launch a sandwich with double the usual chicken payload! Such bold innovation could be decisive in this battle, and yet there’s no sign of any crispy meat mobilization.
Seriously, KFC, your mascot is literally a colonel. There’s no time for poultry pacifism in a world of social scorched earth, so for now we’re ranking KFC dead last.
No. 4: Chick-fil-A
With more than a million Twitter followers, Chick-fil-A should theoretically be a daunting combatant in the Great Chicken Sandwich Twitter War of 2019. But so far, the Atlanta-based chain and proud inventor of the chicken sandwich has pretty much only served as the battle’s first victim.
When the brand posted a vaguely mathematical tweet about how bun, chicken and pickle equal love, most of the initial backlash came from LGBT supporters, who have long been critical of Chick-fil-A owner Dan Cathy’s stance against gay marriage. The combination of “bun” and “pickle” in one tweet proved just too easy of a target for many to ignore.
What happened next set a truly unexpected series of events into motion. Popeyes quoted the bun-pickle tweet and asked its competitor a simple question: “Y’all good?”
After that, it was ON. That said, Chick-fil-A simply took the social beating—Popeyes’ tweet has been liked more than 278,000 times in 24 hours—without comment, complaint or comeback.
But we’re willing to rank the company second from the bottom just for being in the fight, even if it was as an unwitting and slow-witted victim.
No. 3: Boston Market
Guess who’s back? Back again. It’s Boston Market.
Wait, you might ask, are they still around? Yes, despite the chain’s high-profile bankruptcy filing in 1998, Boston Market went on to be bought and eventually sold again by McDonald’s. Today, its financial stability remains in question, with 45 of its 454 stores closing this summer.
Wait, you might ask, do they make a fried chicken sandwich? No. No, they do not. But that didn’t stop the brand’s Twitter feed from joining the digital donnybrook.
Likely motivated by Chick-fil-A’s recent decision to start carrying mac ‘n’ cheese, a side in which Boston Market has long taken pride, the chain known for its rotisserie decided to skewer some unnamed competitors:
Like any good military unit, Boston Market then pivoted to take down an unexpected enemy: ’90s band Smash Mouth.
As the brand started trending, it began fielding the predictable flurry of “Are you still in business?” tweets, swatting them down with laudably terse snark.
Well done, Boston Market. Your arrival on this battlefield was as unexpected as it was efficiently brutal.
No. 2: Wendy’s
It’s said that Wendy can smell one drop of blood in the waters of Twitter from more than a mile away, and true to form the legendarily merciless brand feed was quick to jump into the Chicken Sandwich War.
With more than 3 million Twitter followers, there’s a reason Wendy’s is at the top of its game (though in this case, not the top of our list). The brand’s social team didn’t just start a tussle and deliver multiple blows—they also stuck around to respond to the many positive and negative tweets elicited along the way.
Who could compete? Time to crack open a can of spinach, friends, because it’s…
No. 1: Popeyes
If you’re going to start a fight, you better be ready to end it. Or at least endure the counterattacks and fallout.
And Florida-based Popeyes has managed to do it all, launching a surprise attack on category leader Chick-fil-A and then trading blows with the Ronda Rousey of social smackdowns, Wendy’s.
Popeyes even dragged a hostage into the crossfire: Carter Wilkerson of #NuggsForCarter fame.
Wendy’s, of course, was not going to take such affronts without returning fire.
As yet, the ultimate victor remains undecided. We shall see how Popeyes’ newfound social sass translates into sales of its new sandwich, or if it will lose ground if the war escalates.
But if the battle royale ends here, we feel confident in naming Popeyes as the winner for several reasons.
For one, Popeyes has nothing to lose. The chicken sandwich is a new menu item, one whose market share can only grow through this fried fracas. Meanwhile, other chains are fighting to retain their dominance—or in the case of KFC, simply trying to weather this whole thing from the safety of Colonel Sanders’ 11 secret bunkers.
But beyond the sandwich-specific battle, Popeyes used this as an opportunity to show itself as an emerging power in the social space, competing with brands that have far larger audiences and marketing budgets.
So congrats, for now, to the apparent victors in the Great Chicken Sandwich Twitter War of 2019. Now let’s all hope for an uneasy peace that will last long enough for us to go eat some greens and maybe jog off a few conflict calories.