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The Power of Taylor Swift

The world’s most popular artist has demonstrated her start power (again).

The recent surge in popularity of ranch as a condiment has been attributed to global pop star, Taylor Swift. Over a weekend, Swift attended a Kansas City Chiefs game, cheering for rumored boyfriend, Travis Kelce (one of the star players from the Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs). Photos from the event, especially one of Swift with a plate of chicken tenders accompanied by ketchup and “seemingly ranch”, went viral. This image spurred a wave of online attention, with brands like Hidden Valley Ranch, Van Leeuwen Ice Cream, Lay’s, and Infiniti capitalizing on the moment. The “seemingly ranch” phenomenon extended beyond food, influencing even the Empire State Building’s lighting and prompting Heinz to announce limited-edition bottles of Ketchup and Seemingly Ranch. Other brands and entities, ranging from Merriam-Webster to McDonald’s, have also jumped on this trend, highlighting the expansive impact of celebrity endorsements and internet virality in modern marketing.

Read more at NPR which provides examples (and images) from these other brands.

You might provide this example in your class lecture on promotion more generally (Chapter 13) or with social media and virality (Chapter 16). Here are some ChatGPT inspired questions (and answers below each) you could ask your students in order to stimulate discussion.

  1. Celebrity Influence and Viral Moments: How can a simple action or preference by a celebrity, like Taylor Swift eating ranch, have such profound effects on brands and their marketing strategies? Can you think of other instances where celebrities inadvertently influenced brand strategy?
    • Celebrities, especially with a global following like Taylor Swift, can sway public opinion and drive trends due to their broad reach. Their preferences can impact brand choices of their fans. Another instance is the “Oprah effect,” where a product mentioned by Oprah could see explosive sales.
  2. Swift Reaction of Brands: What are the pros and cons of brands jumping on viral trends like this? What risks do they face? How can they ensure their participation appears genuine and not forced?
    • Pros: Quick brand visibility, engagement boost, association with trending topics, and potential sales increase.
    • Cons: Misjudgment can lead to backlash; it can come off as opportunistic or inauthentic.
  3. Brand Collaborations and Cross-Promotions: Discuss the collaboration between Heinz and Primal Kitchen and the incorporation of Swift-esque friendship bracelets. How can such collaborations enhance brand equity or recognition?
    • Such collaborations can attract fans from both brands, introduce products to a new audience, and leverage shared marketing resources. They can refresh a brand’s image and make it relevant to newer audiences.
  4. Meme Culture in Marketing: “Seemingly ranch” blossomed from a meme to a marketing reality. Discuss the impact of meme culture on modern marketing. How can brands successfully integrate memes into their marketing strategies?
    • Memes represent shared cultural moments, and when brands tap into them, they show cultural relevance. However, memes should align with brand values to prevent missteps.
  5. Potential Backlash: How should brands prepare for potential backlash or accusations of opportunism when they jump on such trends?
    • Brands should be genuine in their approach, avoid forced associations, and be ready to address criticism with humility. They should also ensure they’re culturally and contextually accurate.
  6. Strategic Decision-making in Real-time: Given the speed at which internet trends evolve, how can brands ensure they’re making the right strategic decisions in real-time, especially when capitalizing on such viral moments?
    • Brands need to establish a quick-response team that’s empowered to act fast, a set of guidelines for real-time engagement, and maintain a feedback loop to assess performance. They should be ready to pivot if things don’t go as planned.
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