Popeyes Succeeds with Stuntvertising

Popeyes Pizza Party Crashers



In the times before COVID-19 marketers were fond of a technique we call ‘stuntvertising’ – Candid Camera style videos of flashmobs, marketing stunts or “social experiments” whose object was to get across a marketing message while feeling as ‘real’ as possible.

Some of the ads were corny – like Chevy’s endless series of car surprise ads with ‘ordinary families’ checking out a new Chevy. Some were cheeky – like Burger King’s multi-award-winning “Whopper Detour” which used location services to offer McDonald’s customers a Whopper deal. And some were worthy – like Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches”, which put the trend on the map.

The style had been falling out of fashion, and the pandemic looked to have put an end to it. After all, to get that candid feeling you need roaming camera crews, carefully planned or planted subjects, and close encounters with members of the public. All much harder to pull off in a pandemic.

Which makes Popeyes’ “Pizza Party Crashers” an even more notable success. The US chicken restaurant chain’s 3-minute spot has a simple enough premise. A Popeyes delivery dude stalks pizza delivery people and then makes their customers an offer – trade the pizza they just got for a Popeyes family meal.

That’s it. The guy succeeds twice, gets a polite refusal once, and who knows what other encounters remain on the cutting room floor. And people loved him for it. This three minute ad scored an exceptional 5.5-Stars and an astonishing 1.89 Spike – making it a smash on both short- and long-term effectiveness measures.

What makes it so good? First, it’s a low-key excellent piece of technical filmmaking. Connor Martin, the delivery-guy-turned-stalker, is also the ad’s director, using mounted cameras and long-distance lenses to create an impression of intimacy in a socially-distanced shoot. Once again in a successful ad, the pandemic is context not content, with Martin and the other delivery people masked and the swaps happening at a distance, but without a big fuss being made of it.

The lo-fi approach works in the ad’s favour by making a simple stunt seem that much more authentic. There’s no music, not a lot of cutting, just Martin getting hyped about the stunt he’s doing and chatting to the people he meets. A bigger budget would have ruined it – this is one of the rare ads which actually feels like a YouTube or TikTok video, not a brand being ‘inspired’ by them. And, of course, it helps that Martin is so likeable and enthusiastic – we get to feel a connection with him which helps us engage emotionally with what he’s doing.

It felt like stuntvertising in a pandemic might be impossible. But Popeyes have done it without overt messaging, just using good humour and strong branding.