Whataburger Uses Social Media Savvy to Build a Fast Food Cult
It’s the usual post-landing ritual for most of my friends who visit Texas. The plane empties, you grab your bags, and you pile into your friend’s car. You say, “Take me to Whataburger.” But your friends are probably already on it, letting their ids and their appetites guide them to the incandescent orange and white “W” that marks one of the lone star state’s (and the nation’s) most popular fast food chains. (The most popular, according to a Fast Company readers poll that ranked east and west coast fast food burgers).
So what makes a Texan restaurant chain like Whataburger such a beloved fast food cult? The way-above average food quality (especially the unique items like their honey butter chicken biscuits and spicy ketchup) does some of the work, but their social media savvy, bolstered by immense hometown pride, is what takes Whataburger to the next level. Here are just a few of the things the burger chain does to connect with diners all over the United States.
Using Social Media Savvy to Engage With Pop Culture
You all may remember the Drake-Meek Mill feud, even though it feels like it happened forever ago. We don’t need to go into the ins and outs of why that happened, but it’s worth mentioning for the way Whataburger made itself part of the conversation. Clearly taking sides with Drake, the company tweeted out “Meek Mill take it from us- if you gonna serve beef serve it high quality.” Afterwards, the tweet (which was retweeted over 100,000 times) could be seen on a massive screen behind Drake during a performance. Another tweet followed with Whataburger mimicking Drake’s “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” album cover.
Ever the drama lovers, Whataburger also had something to say about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s surprise divorce last year. The fast food chain tweets, “It’s like we just found out that fancy ketchup broke up with Whataburger fries #brangelina.” It may be a little less Zeitgeisty—you can’t beat Drake in that regard—but it’s a good example of how Whataburger’s social media uses colloquial language and current events to break from the usual confines of corporate social media accounts.
Engaging the Fans
Whataburger also regularly uses social media for promotions and contests. More than many other fast food promotions, however, these efforts make a point of tapping into the fervent fandom that their brand thrives on. For the month of May in 2013, the company held weekly photo contests with themes like “Yourself and Your Whataburger Server” and “Most Epic Whataburger Photo. Ever.” And just last year, they capitalized on the surging popularity of adult coloring books by providing Whataburger-themed coloring pages on their Facebook page, urging Whataburger fans to submit their creations on any of the social media channels and rewarding the best ones.
Letting Sports Fans “Bring Home the W”
The San Antonio Spurs are one of the top teams in the NBA, generally making it to the playoffs every year and even winning the championship in the 2013-14 season. Their head coach, Gregg Popovich, is an increasingly popular public figure. They’re an easy-to-like team, even if they’re not your team. Their competitive edge means that local broadcasts—and local ads for Whataburger—aren’t unlikely sightings in, say, a bar in New York or Chicago.
While it’s not unusual for fast food restaurants to employ promotional tie-ins with local sports teams, Whataburger has taken things a step further this year with their “Bring Home the W” promotion. Every single time the Spurs win, a promotional code will come across the screen offering a chance to win Spurs tickets and Whataburger for two. The chain further connects itself to the sports team in other ways via social media. Just check out this piece of fancy ketchup art the company commissioned from the Spurs Coyote mascot and then tweeted out as part of the #fancySKETCHUP event, in which fans vied for the opportunity to have their portraits drawn in ketchup by an Austin-based artist.
We think it’s about time a Whataburger restaurant opened in NYC, yea?
Chris is a freelance content writer, copyeditor and journalist currently living in Brooklyn, New York. In his free time, he toils on zine-making and fiction writing projects and falls all too easily into YouTube k-holes. He also writes about music sometimes. His work has appeared in Bedford + Bowery and NiftyNYC.