Crisp Sandwich: (noun) Northern Irish cuisine consisting of potato crisps squashed between (ideally) a Belfast bap or two slices of plain bread (buttered), traditionally eaten by students, drunk people at 3am and anyone making a packed lunch for work from an empty fridge.
For my first blog post of 2015, I hung on in the hopes I would find a good local PR example to discuss. It felt like I was waiting forever. I might, it seemed, have to give in and talk about something our English neighbours were doing. Or, heaven forbid, the Americans. And then social media came alive to the sound of crunching Tayto cheese and onion between two rounds of bread! By now, everyone has heard of the curious case of the crisp sandwich café “Simply Crispy” that started out as a parody article by a comedy media outlet and ended up a real-life shop that sold out in a few hours on it’s first day (yesterday).
All of this without one single piece of paid-for media. It’s the stuff of PR dreams because it “went viral” - gaining momentum quickly via social media sharing. It mixes controversy, human emotion, a simple idea, quick turnaround and a type of brand-jacking to the furore that followed their fellow Northern Irish businessmen after setting up the Cereal Killer café in London. As a PR blog I’m not here to discuss the merits of the idea (although it has made me crave a crisp sandwich for a week now!) If you want to read about that, a local hospitality blogger Belfastbarman has done a good job of it here. Or you could read the Huffington Post article (that’s how you know you’ve made it!) Instead, I thought I’d note why it worked, and what makes it such a great example of Social and Digital Media in terms of earned coverage:
- Social Media: The owner already had a distinct social media presence in Northern Ireland through the Twitter account of his existing business “That Wee Café”. #Sassige (it’s an in-joke!) The existing following wasn’t enough, however, it’s the fact that the whole brand identity of the business is humour, not taking itself too seriously, and having the b*lls (quite frankly) to have a personality that has endeared people to any venture they now pursue
- Timing: Not just how quickly the business people took the idea and ran with it, but their creative flair in working around what already existed to put the idea into action was essential. Using an existing café venue, lightning-speed branding and more use of social media to promote it, meant that it was mere weeks from idea to inception and that’s not easy in business
- Brand Personality: Whether it was natural intuition or learning from the mistakes of the cereal café who fell foul when the media turned “serious” on them, Simply Crispy continued the ethos of That Wee Café by batting back criticism with humour and just generally not taking themselves too seriously. This is epitomised by the fact that they haven’t committed to a timeframe. If it’s a flash-in-the-pan idea they’re more than happy to roll with it
- Engagement: It’s one thing to have lots of followers and lots of media coverage. In my opinion, what drove those first day sales was actually support for the people behind the idea as much as the concept itself. Yes, it tapped into the emotive topic of childhood memories for many local people and that, coupled with the low city centre prices for soup and a sandwich, was probably enough to garner some sales. The huge turnout is more likely due, in my opinion, to people wanting to support someone who epitomises what our culture holds up as aspirational in business; someone with backbone, humour, guts and just a hint of luck
What could have been improved? Not a lot from the business’ point of view. People might argue they should have ordered more stock so they didn’t sell-out, but without the long lead-in time you can’t expect detailed market research or sales forecasts. From what I can see, the mistakes were made by other brands who were too slow to jump on the bandwagon hurtling towards the Wild West of Success - namely local crisp brand Tayto, the majority of whose flavours were being stocked at the café as the merits of each were being debated on Twitter and Facebook. Their Southern counterparts (also,confusingly, called Tayto, but tasting very different - trust us) were faster in this regard and injected wit into their attempts to engage with every person (stroke-potential-customer) who mentioned them online.
To Andrew McMenamin I wish the best of luck with any business venture he pursues because, quite frankly, he deserves success. He has achieved in media branding terms what many (bigger) businesses here haven’t and it cannot solely be attributed to “a novelty” idea - from a PR perspective, he has utilised skills, channels and messages in a way many industry pro’s could not, possibly because he knew less of the risks but probably because what he did know he wrote off as nonsense anyway. He did what came naturally with humour and integrity and simply, you can’t buy that.
Lesson to us all in 2015 - nothing ventured, nothing gained!