SINCE 1988

Restaurant Brands Tap Into the Cultural Moment that is ‘Swelce’


You have to be living under a rock to not know by now that music megastar Taylor Swift is dating NFL megastar Travis Kelce. The – ahem – swift relationship has created quite the buzz on social media and elsewhere and, in fact, a survey from Play Ohio finds that 20% of NFL fans say their loved ones are more interested in this football season versus previous seasons because of the megastars’ romance. The survey also found that more than 50% of this added attention is “good” for the NFL. It’s certainly garnering more interest and eyeballs. While Kelce (and his two Super Bowl rings) has always been among the NFL’s most popular players, sales of his jersey have experienced a 400% increase since Swelce became public.

And consider some eyepopping metrics on social media. The NFL’s official Instagram account posted Swift’s reaction to a Kelce touchdown early in the romance, which has since generated thousands of comments, hundreds of thousands of likes, and over 10 million views. The league’s official X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok accounts have also jumped in, with bio changes that have included “Taylor was here” and “NFL (Taylor’s Version).”

It’s clear by the numbers that a cultural moment is upon us, the American consumers who have been beaten down by a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and then by debilitating inflation. We have found a delightful distraction and hope in a storybook romance featuring two rather unproblematic icons. So, what else are savvy marketers to do than capture this lightning-in-a-bottle honeymoon phase and inject themselves effortlessly into the conversation?

Several restaurant brands have done just that, with an emphasis on the “effortless part.” They’ve largely been aided by a series of Kelce’s resurfaced tweets from over a decade ago when he was a wide-eyed 20-something-year-old football novice. To wit:

Chili’s Grill & Bar posted on X on Nov. 13, “karma is the guy taking me to Chili’s,” a nod to a Swift lyric from “Karma.”

Last week, in response to an Entertainment Tonight headline, “ET has learned that Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce’s parents are expected to meet for the first time at Monday’s Kansas City game, where the Chiefs and Eagles are scheduled to face off,” Applebee’s posted: “may we interest you in the perfect family friendly spot for a post-game meal and meeting the parents” (This meeting never happened as Swift was performing a delayed show in Brazil at the time).

And, in response to Kelce’s tweet, “Up at Olive Garden with papa!! Had to grab the Fettucini with the Chicken Alfredo!! #shmackin,” from June 27, 2011, Olive Garden responded with Swift’s “Love Story” lyrics, “It’s a love story, baby just way ‘when.'”

Chipotle has really been running the ball here. On April 27, 2011, Kelce tweeted: “Went from class to therapy, now I need some #chipolte (sic) and then I’m off to check out my new apt!!”

Chipotle simply responded with a Swift lyric from “Anti-Hero:” “It’s me, hi.” The chain then took further advantage of the moment by changing its name on socials to “Chipolte” – a nod to Kelce’s 2011 misspelling. Additionally, on Monday, when Kelce’s Kansas City Chiefs played his brother Jason Kelce’s Philadelphia Eagles, the chain renamed one of its Kansas City restaurants to “Chipolte.”

Brands have even gotten Kelce’s mom Donna involved, which, good for her for raising two NFL players. Last week, Papa Johns launched a limited-time Mama Kelce Bundle, with two specialty pizzas – the Philly Cheesesteak, for the Eagles, and the BBQ Chicken, for the Chiefs, plus any four 20 oz. Pepsi products for $39.99. Raising Cane’s also recruited Donna – in her hybrid Chiefs/Eagles shirt – to serve chicken at an Overland Park, Kansas, restaurant before Monday’s Kelce brothers’ matchup. Notably, Donna has been in the marketing spotlight before, including last year when her sons faced off in the Super Bowl, but unquestionably more people know who she is now.

“Swelce” (or Traylor or Tayvis?) could last a long time or forever, who knows, but this current narrative – like any honeymoon phase – is fleeting and capturing a piece of that narrative that a whole bunch of people care about is savvy. These posts and campaigns may or may not translate to sales. But they definitely illustrate that these brands know where their consumers are focusing much of their attention and that they, too, are doing the same. Relatability with a bit of levity, especially now, can go a long, long way in marketing.


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