Arby’s Dishes on Awesome Pharrell Williams Tweet

It took 'just a few seconds' to write

Headshot of Christopher Heine

Arby’s quietly plucked Josh Martin from digital marketing firm Engauge a few years ago to become its social media director. But his work only grabbed our attention in the last month after he personally commandeered the Arby's Twitter account to big wins during the entertainment world's most famous award shows, the Grammys and Oscars.

During the Grammys, users of social media were amusingly rocked when the company tweeted, now famously, to Pharrell Williams that it "wanted its hat back." The buzz was further extended last Sunday night during the Oscars when it was revealed that Arby's bought Williams' cowboy hat-style fedora for some $44,000, which went to the star's charity. The small effort led to huge results, per the Sandy Springs, Ga.-based fast-food chain, garnering 40,000 social media mentions and 160 million impressions.

Adweek caught up with Martin this week to talk about all this exposure, while Arby’s rep Jason Rollins also joined in.

Adweek: Did you have a war room set up for the Grammys when this whole thing started?

Josh Martin: It was just myself in a room at that moment, but it’s become common practice for our brand on nights like [these], with social listening, and we ended up catching people talking about Pharrell’s hat. And it's worth noting that we also regularly work with our creative agency, Fallon, on social strategy.

How long did it take you to write the Grammys tweet?

Martin: Just a few seconds. It took longer to find Pharrell’s handle and make sure I spelled his name correctly. It came to me organically. From there, the rest is history.

When did Arby’s decide to buy the hat?

Martin: Pharrell tweeted at us the Thursday night before the Oscars about buying it. I quickly sent a note to our executive team, and they huddled for the next day or so, and we decided to commemorate this [moment] in social media for good by participating in the charitable auction.

Has there been any back-channel communication with Williams?

Jason Rollins: We’ve been in touch with his camp, while working on the delivery of the hat. We don’t have any [more] to share at this point, but we have a good, open dialogue.

Have you guys seen a big increase in Twitter followers through all of this?

Martin: Right after the Grammys, we saw around 6,000 new followers. 

Josh Martin

Are you changing anything up for the rest of 2014?

Martin: We recently remodeled a conference room into a social media listening room that our team has access to. It’s a solid glass area where people can see inside—it’s kind of like a fishbowl. We have four big monitors up there, cable TV and other different streams. It makes our operation much more efficient. … We’re elevating social in our company, taking insights and feeding them to public relations and product development. We enjoy taking what we learn from social communities and applying them to other parts of the business.

So it sounds like your relatively new CMO Rob Lynch is on board.

Martin: Definitely. Rob's been a big part of this. This moment with the Grammys proves that social can drive Arby’s in the conversation and ultimately drive foot traffic to our restaurants.

After this successful run and the new digs, if you don’t achieve another tweet-based triumph during the next big TV event, you’re probably going to hear around the office, huh?

Martin: That’s for sure. (Laughs.)

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.