How We Helped QDOBA’s David Troll Chipotle’s Goliath

Sometimes it’s not about the size of your marketing budget.

by Maggie Cadigan and Kristin KB Busk

Imagine sitting in a room and reading the headline that all marketers fear — your biggest competitor just launched a product that might be superior to yours. And, to add salt to the wound, they are THE competitor with a brand name that is known globally (for better or worse…) with a large marketing spend to match.

This happens all the time, but the panic still sets in, your eyes become glued to the reviews and articles coming out on a daily basis about the new product, and you just hold your breath to see where the chips will fall.

Sometimes those chips fall just as you expected them to: big brand with loved products + big ad + R&D budgets = it is obviously going to lead to a successful new product launch…

But sometimes you and your challenger brand can catch a break. And sometimes you can turn that break into an opportunity.

This past July our client QDOBA, deemed the kings and queens of queso by their consumers (for over a decade), watched as Chipotle started testing its new queso in over 350 stores in Los Angeles and Colorado. By the middle of September, the reviews were in and they were largely negative. Could this be QDOBA’s moment to chime in and shine?

As Chipotle’s queso negativity started to build — especially in the social space — it wasn’t our first instinct to attach QDOBA to that conversation.

By the end of September, Chipotle had rolled out its queso nationwide, almost right when reviews for the queso were almost unanimously negative. This negative momentum accelerated even as Chipotle ran more big-budget TV spots.

Any effort by QDOBA to participate in the queso conversation at that time in a traditional sense would have been drowned out. QDOBA was at risk of losing its brand leadership in queso, even if Chipotle stumbled out of the gate. There just had to be another way to do something.

When Chipotle decided to tweak its queso recipe in the wake of negative reviews, the brand promoted an opportunity during the holiday season to get free queso on any entree by wearing a “cheesy” sweater to a Chipotle location near them.

We paused, remembering our own brand’s values.

QDOBA Trolls: Part One. Unlike Chipotle, QDOBA’s queso is always free, right alongside guac. To capitalize on this moment, our trolling began with crafting our response.

Cosmopolitan and many of our fans noticed our efforts, which helped to validate our leadership position in queso AND communicate a key brand value. Our social efforts increased QDOBA’s average social engagement by 310% on Instagram alone.

Meanwhile, based on the negative social response by many, Chipotle’s sweater effort was considered a miss, which led to our next opportunity.

QDOBA Trolls: Part Two. As Chipotle was dealing with a negative backlash on social platforms for its queso, we had tons of positive comments about ours. Why couldn’t we take this opportunity to use these comments to reinforce our leadership position in queso?

On December 18, we launched our #TheirWordsNotOurs campaign, to turn our favorite fan responses on social platforms into awesome GIFs for the Twitter-verse over the course of a day.

QDOBA had an overwhelmingly positive sentiment rate supporting #TheirWordsNotOurs and sparked a conversation around QDOBA that even converted long time Chipotle lovers to QDOBA fans.

But we still had one more goal we wanted to accomplish.

QDOBA Trolls: Part Three. Following Chipotle’s entrance into the queso market, negative sentiment tweets skyrocketed to almost 50,000 instances. We wanted to turn Chipotle’s queso negativity into QDOBA queso positivity.

Enter QDOBA Queso-mojis. We responded to over 3,000 unhappy Chipotle queso consumers on Twitter with classic social reaction GIF emojis, made from an illustration of a cup of QDOBA’s queso.

Alongside, we offered a coupon to get free chips and queso at their local QDOBA — our first step in rebuilding their trust in the cheesy dip, sauce and topping with QDOBA.

When all was said and done, we garnered over 25.5M impressions, 5.8M media views and 150.5K engagement.

Trolling is a legit form of marketing now.

People are on social platforms, talking about topics your brand cares about, whether you like it or not. You can ignore it, or you can embrace it with an established brand voice. See Wendy’s. See also Moonpie, who is crushing it these days on Twitter.

Is this all really “trolling”? Or is it just strategic marketing? Based on our queso experience, it’s…

  • Recognizing your “breaks” and capitalizing on them. Not every brand gets a break like QDOBA did, but when you do, bold marketers explore embracing the opportunity.
  • Tapping into real-time zeitgeist in the moment of your push to illustrate your point. Reaction GIFs are a hyped thing, but they may not be a hyped thing tomorrow. You have to plan, and you have to move quickly.
  • Turning negatives into positives. It would have been easy for QDOBA to speak to and illustrate “dumpster juice”, “sand” and “glue-like” GIFs in reference to Chipotle’s queso, but instead, we recognized that there was enough of that already. Instead, we focused on what’s great about QDOBA.
  • Facing reality. When it comes to putting a stake in the ground, you have to remember that what you stand for must hold true. Sometimes a great idea will need to be put on hold until what your brand is about to say becomes a reality. Not all good ideas are right for your brand. Read the real reviews, don’t ignore the opinions you don’t want to hear and remind yourself of any brand flaws. In 2018, no consumers have patience for a one-sided view.
  • Establishing a brand voice first. Being armed to react in real-time takes a considerable amount of planning ahead of time. Knowing the brand voice matters, which is why we believe that no brand should be on social without first developing its brand strategy.

On social platforms, we tend to worry more about social negativity, but every day, fans are also saying good things about your brand. Why not leverage these as part of your marketing mix? They are simply the new, Modern Media Culture version of a good review.

For more from Maggie and KB on trolling and the Super Bowl, check out their new article in Advertising Age: Super Bowl Trolling and the Future of Marketing.

Maggie Cadigan is a Brand Director at Mistress. Kristin KB Busk is the Director of Social Strategy at Mistress.