The Viral Pretzel

    Industry News | April 28, 2015

    When Tim Tebow signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, Philly Pretzel Factory tweeted a photo of a pretzel shaped like the iconic “Tebowing” kneel directly to the former Heisman Trophy winner. Fans retweeted the post with many adding their own comments. Before long, the clip had gone viral with media outlets like ESPN, Washington Post, and the “Today Show” reporting the story.

    In only two hours, the original tweet had amassed 705 retweets and 446 favorites—an especially impressive feat for a relatively smaller brand with a hundred-plus units.

    “It just kept writing itself. … And a lot of people had fun with it, too,” says Marty Ferrill, president of Philly Pretzel Factory. Twitter users made puns and jokes like, “We’ll eat the arm first—it’s the most tender part,” and, “If he puts a little mustard on his passes now, maybe he’ll be better in Philadelphia,” Ferrill says. He also credits loyal Tebow fans with building the buzz.

    Viral hits are like lighting in a bottle: They are unpredictable and often uncontrollable. Businesses must be timely and relevant to create such buzz. But even when those conditions are met, success is still uncertain.

    Philly Pretzel Factory first crafted the custom pretzel when Tebow made his famous playoff run with the Denver Broncos. This time, the design was even more relevant because of Tebow’s move to the brand’s hometown.

    “In this scenario, it's almost like it perfectly aligned,” says Nick Powills, chief brand strategist for No Limit Agency, which works with Philly Pretzel Factory on its branding and social media strategy. “They're leveraging their brand to talk about something that was bigger than them in that moment but so many brands are like, ‘Buy our product,’ ‘Here's an offer,’ and that's not social.”

    Beyond being more genuine and timely, Ferrill says that brands should be ready to relinquish some control in social media interactions.

    “It became a story that we didn't have any control over after at some point,” Ferrill says. “That’s what social media’s about. That’s what makes these stories interesting.”

    For operators hoping to snag a viral hit, Powills advises them not to look for an outsider to create a new video or hype a new product. He simply encourages them to pay attention to the people on the other side of the social media divide.

    “For a brand that's looking for how can we find that viral moment, listen to your audience because end of day you may think you own your brand but your customers own your brand and they're going to decide if you're great or good or bad,” Powills says. “Viral doesn't happen when it's planned. It happens because people see the authenticity behind whatever concept you put out there. 

    While Ferrill has yet to hear from Tebow himself, the Eagles did call to ask for permission to use the image of the viral pretzel. Philly Pretzel Factory also sent pretzels to the training stadium.


    By Nicole Duncan