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How Viral Social Media Trends Can Drive Offline Engagement

Bracha Arnold
December 13, 2022
How Viral Social Media Trends Can Drive Offline Engagement

Social media is playing an ever-larger role in consumer shopping habits and marketing strategies. Consumers increasingly seek a more authentic approach to marketing, and social media trends that seem spontaneous, viral, and of the minute can resonate with potential shoppers. 

And while social media trends can help with brand engagement and recognition, they can also impact brick-and-mortar retail performance. Offline engagement, in turn, can promote greater brand awareness and loyalty. 

This blog takes a closer look at how viral social media campaigns can increase foot traffic and explores the role of influencer marketing in brick-and-mortar strategy.

Crumbl Cookies: Changing Products Driving Customer Engagement

Crumbl, a Utah-based bakery, launched in 2017. This cookie company has seen exponential growth over the past few years, reaching over 600 stores by 2022. And while the brand has more than tripled its retail footprint since launching, it is even more popular on social media, with TikTok accounts and Reddit threads dedicated to discussing new flavors and reviews. The company releases a flavor of the week and teases them online every Sunday. 

Digital interest in the chain took off in February 2021 when a post about Crumbl’s Strawberry Toaster Tart cookie went viral. Since then, visits to its locations, which operate under a franchise model, have increased steadily, peaking in July 2021 when the brand’s viral reputation was cemented after it gained nearly 1 million followers in a month.

August 2022 saw another massive visit spike, coinciding with the brand's well-publicized lawsuits against copycat competitors. Customers rallied around the brand and the hashtag #UtahCookieWars, likely contributing to the increase in foot traffic that month. 

Crocs: Celebrity Collaborations Leading to Increased Sales

Crocs are an unlikely fashion success story. The brand launched in 2002 as a boat shoe, and while the foam clogs were highly popular, they were often mocked by the fashion set. But the shoe has been rising in popularity over the past few years, as celebrity and influencer collaborations and a shifting fashion aesthetic brought them into the mainstream

The brand has promoted dozens of high-profile collaborations with celebrities and fashion houses – Justin Bieber, Post Malone, and the Grateful Dead have all designed and launched shoes. Crocs’ decision to pull collaborators from across the spectrum – from high-art fashion houses to pop musicians – allows the company to expand its reach to a diverse range of customers. 

The brand is also extremely successful on TikTok, with the hashtag #crocs racking up over 3 billion views on the platform. Crocs used its online reach to promote its annual Crocs Day on October 23rd, 2022, advertising the day online and offering in-store deals. These online promotion efforts seem to have translated into offline success – weekly visits to the brand’s store during the week of Crocs Day were up year-over-year (YoY) for the first time since August 2022. The company’s strong Crocs Day visit numbers seem to indicate that social media promotions can translate into increased in-store traffic. 

Rick and Morty and Wendys: Cult Favorites Drive Visits

A foul-mouthed cartoon grandfather with a penchant for drinking and interdimensional space travel and his awkward teen grandson are unlikely candidates for influencer campaigns. And yet, the hit TV show Rick and Morty has become an inadvertent product-placement darling. Fans of the show mobbed McDonald’s following a Szechuan Sauce-themed plotline, demanding the condiment.

Now, Wendy’s is getting into the mix – the company launched an ongoing collaboration with Rick and Morty in 2021. The partnership is promoted on the fast-food chain's Twitter account, which is well-known for roasting individuals and companies alike. Their first project was an immersive pop-up experience at a California location, which included a giant Rick head and new menu items based on elements of the show, such as the Pickle Rick Frosty and Mello Yello Portal Time Lemon Lime. 

The pop-up was a huge success, with the Wendy’s at Panorama City during the weeks of June 14th and 21st seeing massive year-over-two-year (Yo2Y) increases in foot traffic of 208.9% and 87.7%, respectively. And the effects lingered, with visits to the Panorama City Wendy’s above the nationwide Wendy’s for two of the following four weeks. The restaurant chain has since launched additional Rick and Morty-themed menu items with partner Uber Eats and debuted several commercials featuring the cartoon characters. 

The success of this pop-up indicates that influencers come from multiple platforms – TV included. Rick & Morty’s cult appeal allowed Wendy's to create a viral, irreverent promotion to speak to the show’s fan base and beyond. 

Taco Bell & Doja Cat: Social Media Conversations 

Social media allows seamless conversations between brands, customers, or influencers, with real-world implications. One example is the collaboration between singer Doja Cat and Taco Bell. In 2020, Doja Cat tweeted a request for the return of Taco Bell’s Mexican Pizza, which had been removed from menus earlier in the year. Taco Bell ran with the concept, collaborating with Doja Cat to write a jingle about the pizza. The song went viral, and the pizza was relaunched in May 2022.

While the Mexican Pizza previously saw lackluster sales, the May 2022 launch saw products selling out at a rate 7 times faster than in November 2020. This enthusiasm caused the chain to run out of ingredients and put the brakes on the Mexican Pizza until it felt logistically ready to relaunch in September 2022. Both times the launch was met with a massive spike in foot traffic – visits to Taco Bell grew by 63.3% in the week of May 16, while weekly visits to Taco Bell increased by 9.6% YoY during the second launch. 

Companies like Taco Bell have mastered the art of harnessing these brief moments of virality into real marketing opportunities. Doja Cat’s initial tweet helped reintroduce a menu item, increased foot traffic, massively increased visibility for Taco Bell, and even sparked a musical collaboration with Dolly Parton. 

Minions: TikTok Trends Filling Movie Theaters

Visits to movie theaters are still trailing behind pre-pandemic levels, but the release of Minions: The Rise of Gru brought a significant boost in foot traffic. Although families with small children contributed significantly to the boost, another factor worked in theaters' favors as well: a viral TikTok trend in which teens filmed themselves leaving for the movies in a suit and tie while using #GentleMinions as a hashtag.

The trend started innocently enough and quickly ballooned into a worldwide phenomenon, helping boost ticket sales. Universal Studios tweeted in support of the trend. However, some theaters were not as happy as the suited-up moviegoers left behind significant messes, with some theaters going as far as to ban anyone coming in a suit. Still, the trend boosted a segment that has struggled post-pandemic, with visits to theaters up 34.8%, 40.1%, and 64.3% for AMC Theaters, Regal Cinemas, and Cinemark, respectively, for the July 4th weekend.  

The trend underscores how quickly an idea can spread worldwide on social platforms.

Social Strategies for 2023

The success of these viral campaigns emphasizes just how important a social media strategy can be for a brick-and-mortar retailer. Influencer and social media marketing will be one of the most important marketing trends of 2023 as consumers seek authentic advertising approaches that feel seamless and natural. Companies that capitalize on this modern advertising approach can hope to see increased engagement and a boost in-store traffic visits. 

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