Popeye’s — yes, the fried chicken company — is raising some eyebrows in the music industry this week. The restaurant chain announced a new national campaign on Monday, May 4th encouraging musicians to compete in a contest in which they perform the company’s famous “Love That Chicken” jingle using the hashtag #LoveThatJingle on social media. Winners selected will get a one-time payment from Popeye’s and will perform the tune on TV and radio advertisements, the company says.
The project started through an ad in the the Times-Picayune, New Orleans’s local newspaper, before Popeye’s decided to expand it into a national ad. Popeye’s declined to comment on how many musicians would be selected or how much they’d get paid, but a spokesperson for the company said their compensation would be higher than on typical payment for artists.
But according to the Popeye’s website for most of the day yesterday, only non-union member musicians could participate in the competition, excluding many working professional musicians who may be struggling through the pandemic. Hours later, after Rolling Stone inquired about the text, the language was updated and the line “open only to non-union members” was removed from the site.
When asked about the non-union language in the original statement, a spokesperson for Popeye’s said the company “is welcoming all artists to participate and will pay those selected according to the union regulations,” and noted that the language would be changed.
Both of the largest musician’s unions in the industry, the American Federation of Musicians and SAG-AFTRA, voiced concerns over the campaign on Monday and how the deals would work for participating musicians. Restaurant Brands International, Popeye’s parent company doesn’t have a contract with AFM or SAG-AFTRA, spokespeople for both organizations said, and any union regulations are determined by negotiating with the unions.
In a statement to Rolling Stone prior to Popeye’s language update, AFM International President Ray Hair said that the campaign — especially if it excludes unions — was exploitative and called on Popeye’s to instead advocate for further musician unemployment benefits to the federal government’s coronavirus relief. “It’s despicable to see a large multinational corporation take advantage of musicians during a global pandemic by asking performers to sign away all their rights for an undisclosed chunk of change,” he said.
After the change in language, a spokesperson for AFM said the Federation was “relieved that the original casting call discriminating against union musicians was revised, and now musicians are anxious to negotiate a fair contract with Popeyes that appropriately compensates performers for their work.”
SAG-AFTRA held similar sentiments. “SAG-AFTRA does not condone this contest or any opportunity that seeks to exploit talent. Instead of providing a meaningful opportunity, this contest is purely exploitative,” SAG-AFTRA Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland told Rolling Stone in a statement. “Singers and musicians have been offered a chance to work but at the cost of creating content for a for-profit entity to use forever. Vocalists and musicians will never see additional profits from their participation in this campaign. Without the protection of a union, performers are more vulnerable during this uncertain time than ever before. It’s no wonder they are asking for non-union talent.”
Regarding the unions’ concerns or what the union regulations would be, Popeye’s didn’t respond to request for comment.