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#NuggsForCarter: What a 16-Year-Old’s Plea for Chicken Can Teach Brands About Twitter

Social media history was made today. A previously unknown 16-year-old from Reno, Nev. now reigns supreme as the owner of the most-retweeted tweet ever, in the entire history of Twitter. You may be scratching your head right about now, so let me bring you up to speed.


On April 5, 2017, Twitter user @carterjwm (Carter Wilkerson, 16) tweeted at Wendy’s, asking how many retweets he would have to get for Wendy’s to provide him with a year of free chicken nuggets. While Wilkerson might have been joking,  Wendy’s wasn’t. Recently, the brand had decided to make some changes to its social media persona,  specifically making waves on Twitter for “clapping back at Twitter trolls.” Staying true to its new identity, Wendy’s told Carter he’d get his free nuggs if he could reach 18 million retweets (approximately 5% of Twitter’s monthly active global users). Challenge accepted and while Wilkerson is still about 14.5 million retweets short, it only took 5 weeks to break a world record.


Wendy’s challenges Carter Wilkerson to 18 million retweets in exchange for a year of free chicken nuggets.

Wilkerson’s tweet quickly went viral, garnering 2.6 Million RTs in just a week. Soon, celebrity Ellen DeGeneres realized her record of the most retweeted tweet was in jeopardy. She filmed a “PSA” to encourage her fans to RT her tweet to hold her record. Eventually she brought Wilkerson onto her show and brokered a deal with the teen; she encouraged her fans to retweet his tweet so long as they retweeted her Oscars tweet too (so she wouldn’t lose her title). Unfortunately for Ellen, history was finally made this morning when his tweet surpassed her Oscars Tweet with 3.4 million retweets, confirmed by Guinness World Records. The official count as of 2:53pm on May 9, 2017 is:
Wilkerson: 3,471,809; Ellen: 3,432,492.


The Guinness Book of World Records makes things official.

Guinness World Records makes things official.

Though still shy of his 18 million retweet goal, Wendy’s threw Wilkerson a nugg (well, a years’ worth) and to sweeten the deal, also donated $100K to The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.


Wendy’s congratulates Carter Wilkerson on his new record.

Twitter: The Risk and Reward

On the surface, this story may seem like a bit of silly “Twitter nonsense”, but there’s a lot marketers can learn here. It’s no secret that brands often forego Twitter to invest their sweet, sweet ad dollars in platforms with more robust targeting capabilities and greater reach (Facebook), or on platforms with the highly desirable millennial/Gen Z audience (Snapchat).

As a result, Twitter has become a less desirable social media platform for brands.  Twitter is highly unpredictable and requires a lot of effort to maintain in order for a brand to succeed. Even the most strategic, well-planned campaigns can get roasted when an unplanned, unwelcome cultural event happens in real-time. Sometimes, the risk is not worth the reward.

And, sometimes it is. This is where Wendy’s comes in. After the positive reception of their January “clap back” tweets, Wendy’s saw the opportunity to use Twitter to engage with their audience in a new and different way. By developing and sticking to their renewed social personality, they were not just entertaining their audience, but providing a way to relate to them. And, with Wilkerson’s tweet, Wendy’s seized the moment to connect with a consumer, and though they took a risk expecting nothing in return, the payoff was huge.

Sure, on the surface, Wendy’s 10-character response to Wilkerson resulted in 3.4 Million retweets. But, if we think bigger and consider the resulting tangible impressions, word of mouth and positive PR, Wendy’s is looking at results that likely would have cost them millions of ad dollars on other social media platforms. All for the low cost of absolutely nothing.

In advertising, it’s easy to get caught up in the big picture when planning campaigns; years of traditional advertising has made it difficult for brands, advertisers and marketers to break away from what they’ve come to know and understand. But in the age of digital, where attention spans are short and patience for ads is even shorter, thinking outside of the box is critical. All of the targeting and retargeting in the world can’t recreate a moment of genuine fan-to-brand engagement. Sometimes, a little calculated risk is necessary to bring home a big reward.

Social media empowers entirely new, one-to-one conversations and the potential for greatness exists when brands hold themselves to a standard of authenticity and look not just to create new personal experiences for consumers, but to engage in existing ones. Sometimes, advertisers can get too caught up in trying to fabricate or recreate a truly authentic moment for engagement, that they miss the ones that are happening right in front of them.

Perhaps it’s time for brands learn a lesson from Wendy’s, spread their (Twitter) wings, and take flight from the security of their traditional advertising nest.

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Luigi Mondi

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