How Kit Kat managed to turn a viral tweet into a branded proposal

Credit: Penjari Photography

In May, Haley Byrd teased her boyfriend on Twitter with a photo that served as proof he’d never eaten a Kit Kat bar before - or bothered to listen to the lyrics of the candy bar’s famous "Gimme a break" jingle.

Kit Kat quickly took notice as the tweet racked up thousands of likes, retweets and comments from fans who couldn’t believe her boyfriend, Evan Wilt, had the audacity to bite into the bar without breaking off a piece first. “Dump him” gifs, pleas to break up with him, and warnings to “not have children with this man” rolled in, with one user jokingly commenting that the photo “should come with a graphic content warning.”

Like any brand enjoying its moment in the viral spotlight, Kit Kat figured out a way to get in on the action. After getting in touch with Byrd and Wilt, the brand sent him a Kit Kat-themed care package to “give him a break” after he’d caught so much flak.

Soon after, the Hershey-owned brand helped Wilt propose to Byrd on July 3 with a 3D-printed Kit Kat bar that doubled as a ring holder. The brand also created a Kit Kat cake to help the newly engaged couple celebrate afterwards.

The Drum spoke with director of Kit Kat Ian Norton to find to find out more about how the brand managed to weasel its way into to the couple’s special moment and how tweet-inspired gestures like this fit into its overall marketing strategy.

When Byrd’s tweet went viral, how did Kat Kat initially react?

We immediately reached out to Evan based on all the pick up that it got from other people chiming in on the savage way that he ate it, or the “wrong” way to eat a Kit Kat. We sent them a care package that basically tried to educate Evan on the right way to eat the product.

How did the care package lead to Kit Kat getting involved with the proposal?

That initial tweet and interaction kind of built a relationship, so our PR team internally stayed in touch with him. Through staying in touch with him, we learned that he was going to propose on July 3 to Haley. We didn't want to step on any toes or overshadow the experience of their special day, but he thought it would be a good idea to have us play a role. He thought it’d be an entertaining way for him to do the proposal. Internally, we brainstormed with him and aligned on an idea to create the 3D-printed Kit Kat that could serve as the ring holder. You actually have to break it open, so that reinforced the brand idea of the “break.”

What was the process like of creating the 3D-printed candy bar?

Because we did it internally and because we had already established a relationship with Evan, we were able to turn it around very quickly. We turned it around in less than a week. I would say the investment was less than $2,000 for us to pull the whole thing off.

Was there any hesitation around having the brand be involved in such a personal moment?

Our most important thought process going in was, ‘How do we remain authentic to their situation and not seem like we’re trying to project or put our brand into that moment?’ The fact that he reached out to us and wanted to do it - versus us contacting him and trying to pay to be part of it - is what made us feel good about it. It wasn't us inserting our brand into the moment; it was him asking. She loves the brand and he wanted to be able to have a fun way to surprise her.

It was easy for us to get involved because we felt like it came up authentically and organically, and it wasn’t something that we were trying to push on him. We obviously could have decided to try to do a lot of things and send them places and have a TV camera there, but it was really more about [asking ourselves], ‘What is the small break that we can give to him?’ based on the backlash he’d already taken. We were just happy to play a small part in the engagement.

What sort of impact has this had on the brand? Have you measured it in any way?

It’s too soon to know impact on sales, and that’s not really why we do these types of activities. The media landscape has really changed dramatically, so we’re always looking for additional ways to be relevant in the marketplace. The most important thing is having people have positive associations with our brand and feeling like they can connect to the brand. Our brand is really all about providing breaks, and we want to advocate for breaks. Giving Evan a break just fit in really nicely.

We got quite a few media impressions, but it’s not something that we will spend a lot of time analyzing [in terms of] a return on investment or what the impact was from a media value standpoint. It’s really more about building our brand among our consumers.

Marketing plays like this are different from more “traditional” ones since they begin with the consumer, not an agency or brand. Because of this, do you approach them differently?

Yeah, definitely. The best way to approach them is on a case-by-case basis. Second, we really move quickly, because the timeline for how long things stay contemporary and relevant is so short these days, so being very nimble and responsive is important. Establishing relationships, especially in a digital world and a world through social media, is also very critical because in some ways there is a little bit of a wall that goes up if you’re a consumer and a corporation reaches out to you. Once you break down that wall and establish that credible relationship, I think that really helps.

I would say the big “learning” is that these are things that are very difficult to engineer. You have to have genuine, authentic stories either that you create as a brand, or you have to have these things that organically bubble up.

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