The UNC Tar Heels basketball team faced off against the Elon Phoenix tonight and a peculiar thing happened. Despite UNC winning by nearly 50 points the entire game, the infamously stereo-typed “Wine and Cheese” crowd grew louder as the already-decided game drew to a close. Much like the climax from the classic sports film Rudy, the fans were chanting in unison. But instead of a particular player’s name, the masses were chanting “BISCUITS, BISCUITS, BISCUITS.” Why?
UNC basketball. Bojangles biscuits. Much like any sane North Carolinian, I am enamored by each.
The word “Fan” stems from “Fanatic”: a person whose enthusiasm or zeal for something is extreme or beyond normal limits. While I love football Saturdays with bourbon soaked Coca-Cola and pro-style offense (welcome to the Hill Larry Fedora!), UNC football just doesn’t bring me to that “extreme” level of fandom. Sure, I’ll watch Tar Heel football, men’s and women’s soccer, field hockey, baseball, and pretty much anything else ESPN will televise, but none of those sports can bring such elation or anguish to my life as UNC basketball. For instance, I dislocated my knee the night UNC beat Illinois to win the 2005 NCAA national championship. That summer I went through extensive arthroscopic surgery on my ACL to repair the damage. Despite all the pain, swelling, and roughly 30 pounds of weight gain associated with the recovery, that April night still ranks as one of the best of my life. On the other side of the coin, 8 and 20 (if you don’t know, don’t ask) was probably the worst year of my life. Disclaimer: that year was only terrible until (after UNC’s season was finished) I went on the first date with my future wife Amanda in April.
Now, Bojangles, for the uninitiated, is a southern fast food staple. Founded in Charlotte in the 1970′s, franchises can now be found as far north as Pennsylvania and as far south as……..Honduras (news to me as well). There isn’t anything particularly unique about Bojangles’ menu: fried chicken, buttered biscuits, cajun-spiced fries, dirty rice, sweet tea. But much like any business success story, the success doesn’t stem from the idea, it is a result of the execution. For you northerners that “just don’t understand those southerners’ obsession with sweet tea,” I can’t explain it; just go buy a 32oz. sweet tea from BoJo. Problem solved. So many fast food joints offer up breakfast biscuits it’s hard for the average obese American to choose from, but if you asked me, the only choice would be between Cajun Filet or Bo’Berry, both of which are solely ‘jangles offerings.
If you held a gun to my head and made me choose between UNC basketball and Bojangles? Well, I would choose UNC hoops every time, but don’t kid yourself if you didn’t think it would be close. Now, some higher-up in the Bojangles marketing department must have witnessed such an inner-battle occurring within a gluttonous basketball fan like myself and like any good marketer, decided to exploit the hell out of it. Since before I stepped foot on UNC’s campus as a freshman, Bojangles has run a promotion that if UNC scores at least 100 points during any home game, everybody (ticketholder and non-ticketholders) gets free biscuits the next day at participating Bojangles.
Talk about the perfect storm. I’m not sure when this promotion began, but it caught on like wildfire thanks to Roy Williams. Good ole’ Roy returned to the Hill in 2003 and went on to win 2 NCAA Championships in the next 6 years. Along the way, his “aww shucks” high-octane fastbreak-based offense finished in the Top 5 nationally for Points Per game all but one of those years. In other words, there were lots and lots of biscuits to be had.
In 2007, the promotion had gone so viral that fans started calling Dewey Burke, a rarely utilized reserve player, “Biscuits” Burke because he so often found himself taking the last shot of the game when UNC was blowing out inferior opponents; the shot to eclipse that oh-so-sweet 100 point mark. While UNC’s average Points Per Game has fallen a bit since those days, the Biscuit is still on everybody’s mind. Just search for #Biscuits on Twitter the next time UNC is playing, if it isn’t already trending of course. Even inept sports announcers have caught on to the act, besides Len Elmore of course, who famously stated on ESPN that fans were chanting “FISHSTICKS” because a local restaurant gave free fish to all comers when the Heels scored 100.
To me, a lover of behavioral and applied economics, the best part about this whole Biscuit frenzy is the underlying financial benefit to consumers originally offered by the accidental geniuses at Bojangles. Bojangles offer is simply this: If UNC scores 100 points while playing in Chapel Hill, you can drive to one Bojangles that isn’t even in Chapel Hill (thanks to an odd municipal ban on drive-thrus) and if you make it that far, you can buy 2 Sausage Biscuits, normally $1.89, for the amazing price of just $1.00. So by offering an 89 cent discount on two sausage biscuits at just one location, maybe 5 times a year, Bojangles has created one of the best viral marketing campaigns I have ever witnessed. This is coming from the marketing gurus who centered their entire TV advertising strategy on Jake Delhomme:
The funny thing is, I don’t even like Bojangles’ sausage biscuits. If you want to truly experience Bojangles in all of it’s southern-fried fast-good gloriousness, go for a Chicken, Egg AND Cheese biscuit, side of bo-rounds and a large sweet tea. You’re heart won’t thank you, but your soul sure will.