Supreme envy: The drop model gets used for burgers, tacos, toothbrushes

The drop model, where a limited amount of a new product is quickly released, has fueled the rise of streetwear and quickly been adopted by fashion brands. But now, the trend is catching on with companies outside of luxury and the streetwear scene.

Companies spanning a range of categories, from fast food giant Shake Shack to toothbrush subscription service Quip, are adopting the drop model to launch their own new items on social they then expect to sell out quickly. The bet: A limited-release is now a cultural phenomenon that can be coopted for a marketing jolt in the form of social media chatter.

“The drop culture is now ingrained in the consumer buying psyche,” said Chris Paradysz, co-CEO and founder of PMX Agency. “The drop really started with sneakers and fashion. It put ‘the craze’ in people’s passion. It’s a more recent phenomenon for consumer brands.”

Shake Shack, for instance, is using the drop model to drive app installs. Shake Shack has used its app to launch six new items, including its Pride Shake and chili burgers, and brought back Shake Shack’s Hot Chick’n sandwich. Abbey Reider, director of digital and guest experience at Shake Shack, said Shake Shack see a “significant” amount of app installs with every item drop and higher levels of engagement on social media. It’s also a way for the company to test out new items before bringing them into restaurants where the majority of sales take place, said Reider.

Dos Toros is using the model for a similar end. The taco chain, partly inspired by real time engagement apps like HQ, launched its Burrito Time app in August to give away free burritos to the first 10 people who downloaded and opened its app upon receiving a notification.  The company just ended the program last week after giving away 1,000 free burritos from its 18 locations in New York and Chicago.

According to Daniel Greenberg, director of strategy and distribution at Mschf, the agency that worked with Dos Toros, the app functioned as a test to see if the chain could generate enough publicity before launching a fully-fledged Dos Toros app. Greenburg said the app saw around 10,000 downloads and a few thousand people still have the app downloaded on their phones. Fast food and traditional restaurants have also boosted their apps with reward programs, a variety of payment options and delivery options in order to compete in the space and drive more first-party data.

Toothbrush subscription service Quip has turned to Instagram where it has so far launched three specialty toothbrushes in the past few months. For Quip, the drop model is n opportunity to partner with other companies on limited edition items. Already it has dropped a golden one for a collaboration with charity: water and a dark red one in partnership with HIV nonprofit RED.

“We’re getting to a regular cadence,” said Elliot Friar, brand manager at Quip. “It’s a natural place for us to drop something because we want user feedback and immediately gauge our users.”

But the drop model is not without its challenges. Since the primary success metric is buzz, some don’t see the point of artificially limiting supply rather than selling as much as possible.

“One of the problems we have faced is making sure we have internal alignment to reserve product for app launch first, versus doing a full roll out across app and at our restaurants, which can yield higher sales,” said Shake Shack’s Reider.

There can also be troubles with technology. Dos Toros found that out first-hand when more people than they expected opened the Burrito Time app after receiving notifications.

The tactic also doesn’t fit for just any product, said Greenburg. A company can only pull off adopting a drop model if a product is not too pricey and can easily be given away or sold, which shows why food companies are especially latching onto the tactic, he said. “You can’t drop a BMW or an Audi,” he said

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