Culver’s guests crave and crunch cheese curds at an unrivaled rate and consume them in countless forms—by themselves, dunked in ranch dressing, or more recently, atop a beloved Culver’s ButterBurger.
With such a deep devotion to this tasty snack, it’s no surprise that in 2021 cheese curds ended up setting the stage for a record-shattering limited-time offer at Culver’s with what would become known as “the CurderBurger.”
Culver’s, a brand with a strong reputation for giving their guests what they crave, sought insights into fan favorites and menu hacks through social media to spark new ideas. One hack that gained traction was adding these cheesy bite-sized treats to a ButterBurger for an extra cheesy, crunchy bite. This sparked what would become a quintessential April Fools’ Joke: the CurderBurger.
A first-of-its-kind true Wisconsin-inspired burger featuring a cheese curd crown—essentially a giant cheese curd adorning a mouthwatering and made-to-order classic ButterBurger—caused social media to erupt with delight on April 1, 2021. Excitement quickly turned into outcry and disappointment when Culver’s announced that this delicious treat was, in fact, just a joke. The immediate demand was no laughing matter—fans took to social media, feverishly lighting up multiple platforms with petitions, causing the brand to take the request seriously.
No longer a joke, our team was tasked with building a campaign that would usher this fan favorite to the forefront for cheese curd lovers everywhere on National Cheese Curd Day on October 15, 2021, a holiday founded by Culver’s.
With such insistent calls for this menu item, the challenge became clear: how to ensure the buzz for the real CurderBurger would match or surpass the April Fools’ Day joke engagement—and more important, how to translate this devotion to drive purchase.
The limited, one-day-only special offering was a colossal masterpiece to put together in a very short amount of time and required detailed choreography across teams.
We decided that making it exclusive—a one-day, limited-supply item across 25 states and 800 restaurants—would cement this mythical item in social media circles and generate messaging around FOMO: Fear of Missing Out.
Our strategy to capture the world’s fracturing attention span had to be timed just right. So, we intentionally decided to keep any mentions of the CurderBurger from social media until two weeks before the big day and focused on other tactics that would set us up for success in building and accelerating momentum toward our October 15 launch.
With such a short timeframe to bring this burger to life, it was full steam ahead from August to October. We set out to generate excitement by coordinating exclusive CurderBurdger previews and taste tests for key members of the media, inviting them to a nearby restaurant to learn more about the much-anticipated menu item from the Culver’s director of menu development. Those previews were soon joined by targeted outreach to local and national reporters to schedule interviews, including pre-taped broadcast segments featuring reporters getting an exclusive first taste of the CurderBurger.
Two weeks before the big day, we went back to where it all started: social media. Coupled with our planned media efforts in earlier weeks, our social strategy focused on amplifying excitement. Culver’s co-founder Craig Culver went the extra mile to get the word out by reaching back out to the fans that advocated for the CurderBurger and sent personalized videos to thank them for the role they played in making this once joke a reality. To further personalize the experience, we sent an email blast to set calendar reminders directly from the email. Enthusiasts quickly put together frenzied plans to get their hands on this delectable treat. Beginning on September 30 and culminating on October 15, media coverage from our previews, combined with our personalization efforts, spread like wildfire across platforms. The CurderBurger excitement was everywhere.
Culver’s even decided to up the ante and prolong engagement through a sweepstakes from October 15 through 22, inviting guests to share a photo of their CurderBurger for a chance to win exclusive swag to commemorate the unique event.
The combined traditional and digital marketing activations stirred up a craze of chatter, reaching never-before-seen levels of guest comments across the PR and social landscape. Even trade publication editors said that in the last 38 years of Culver’s history, they’d never heard so much chatter surrounding a limited-time item. In the end, the only thing that rivaled guest excitement for the CurderBurger was the sales.
The CurderBurger defied all expectations, with sales soaring within minutes of locations unlocking their doors. Some locations sold out within two hours after opening, long before the typical lunch rush. The response was palpable: A vibration of excitement around this shared experience even extended to guests who were disappointed they didn’t get there in time.
The strategy of exclusivity and limited supply was a success. Guests not only waited in line for hours to get the CurderBurger in their hands and mouths—some even took time off work to do so. In total, 136,000 CurderBurgers were sold across the Culver’s footprint—leading to record-setting, single-day sales records for about 20% of Culver’s 800+ locations.
PR and social media efforts drove 110MM+ impressions, earning the CurderBurger coverage in top publications such as The Wisconsin State Journal, BuzzFeed and Thrillist, with online comment volume exploding from 700 average daily mentions to more than 6,000.
Pairing this underground menu hack with fan excitement for the one-of-a-kind taste experience delivered a killer punchline. The results were nothing to laugh about, however: This was the most popular new product launch in the life of the brand (so far, of course), and the CurderBurger continues to be a source of inspiration for future menu development and product launches.
Insights gained from directly listening to your target can lead not only to impressive sales boosts but can also create shared experiences that foster fan devotion and loyalty for the long haul.
Looking to turn a fan favorite into a bottom-line booster? Email Dana Arnold at email@example.com to set up a call.