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How did Salt Bae go viral and became famous? - Viral Marketing Case Study (8 min read)

Salt Bae – a Turkish chef whose real name is Nusret Gökçe. He became world-famous for the way he salts meat. He turned becoming a meme into almost $60 million of personal net worth.

?Strategy & Tools

Highlights 

  • 2010 – Nusret Gökçe opens his first steakhouse named Nusr-et in Istanbul. After a Turkish businessman, Ferit Sahenk, was impressed by Nusr-Et’s meals, he invested in the business, enabling the chef to make his steaks become widely known across the Middle East, in his restaurants in Ankara, Doha, and Dubai. That’s before becoming the SaltBae.
  • Jan 7, 2017 – „Ottoman Steak” vide is published on Instagram. It goes viral and gets over 16M views to date.
  • Jan 8, 2017 – The hashtag #SaltBae became trending on Twitter which brought massive attention to Nusret. This is when it became one of the best memes of 2017. By this day, Nusret’s Instagram account had already over 1 million followers.
  • Jan 9, 2017 – Bruno Mars tweeted an image from the video. It gathered 21.2k retweets, 2.2k quote tweets, and 58.6 likes. That sent the video into the stratosphere.
  • mid Feb – so far, the story made into 774 separate headlines across the world
  • Beyond Jan 2017 – Nusret became a full-blown meme, popping in various conversations, as a GIF, video, or image. More importantly, he capitalized on the fame as he opened the first US restaurant the next year which is still highly popular. His net worth is estimated at $50-60 million.

Who is Salt Bae?

Salt Bae is a Turkish chef who got popular because of the way he salts meat at the end of the process of  preparing it. His true name is Nusret Gökçe.

He comes from a poor and uneducated family, but his passion for meat made him quite rich and famous, against all odds.

Working hard for the ‘overnight success’

An overnight success is rarely ‘overnight’ and Salt Bae’s case is one of the greatest examples.

“People see me as uncouth. I am the son of a mine worker. My father and mother do not know literacy. I cannot go to school due to financial difficulties. I started working at a butcher as an apprentice when I was 14. Meat has become a passion for me,” Nusret Gokce said in an interview.

Between 2007 and 2010, he worked for free as a butcher in various restaurants in Argentina and the United States to gain experience. Then, he opened a restaurant in Istanbul and eventually met an investor that allowed him to turn his passion into a small steakhouse chain.

It’s pure hard work that made Nusr-Et’s name known in the Middle East. 

Standing out with style

As a chef, Nusret Gökçe knew that he wanted to stand out. He’s stylish in an iconic way – he always wears round sunglasses, a gold watch and very often dark jeans and white T-shirt. Oh, and this huge butcher’s knife. 

That’s almost like a superhero’s suit. You can dress as SaltBae on a Halloween Party, and people will know who you’re dressed as.

The signature is the salting, though:

“Actually that move at the end [salting] came automatically. I did not do that to show off. It is just my signature. You can think of it a kind of final touch for a painting. It was a final touch to the meat; I was blessing the meat,” he mentioned in that earlier interview.

Becoming a meme

The signature moves were commented to be sensual but when that is in the context of meat, we’re onto something. It’s so odd that it had to raise questions and while the signature moves are unique, they were quickly turned into situation-based memes that spread as fast as the lightning.

How did Salt Bae become famous?

Thanks to Bruno Mars. Yeah – THAT Bruno Mars. Well, a single move or a trick is rarely enough to become a world-wide meme.

That could’ve been by accident that Bruno Mars stumbled upon the video but when your content is shared by someone with over 40M followers, you’re likely to pop out. That's just how things work. This single tweet was one of the keys to Salt Bae’s success.

Making a content machine

Cleverly enough, SaltBae is a content powerhouse. His instagram is full of his work, but also style and luxury lifestyle – just what Instagram loves. But every time he prepares a new meal, he can record it and turn it into another video, without even speaking a word. That makes the content production effective and maintains the momentum.

How did Salt Bad start his business?

Nusret did everything right to keep the meme’s momentum and translate it into business success. He opened restaurants in the US, but the secret sauce is him visiting the restaurants he owns and preparing the dinner for guests.

Eating at Nusr-Et is expensive but similar to all other steak houses. However, it’s special in one way – because Salt Bae himself can prepare you the meat. You can film him and share it to tell your friends you saw the living meme. Even now, when he’s made a huge success, he still flies his private jet, to offer the same experience all over his restaurants.

For example, one family recorded the visit in New York and the video reached almost 20M views on its own. Two years after that became a meme – most of them die after 4 months.

Making friends with celebrities

Nusret is definitely a celebrity chef, and he cooked for many other celebrities, like David Beckham. That opens some doors, while – again – it’s another content that will impact the reach and bring more people to Nusr-et restaurants.

What's Salt Bae net worth?

Now you know how Salt Bae became famous. It is worth noting that becoming a meme nowadays seems like a great option to score quite a nice amount of cash. It is estimated that Salt Bae's net worth is around $50-$60 million. That's a lot for an ordinary butcher with a handful of salt… ekhm… passion for meat, of course.

?Psychology

Humor Effect

People better remember humorous information. When they realized how funny the salting is, they could carry on the story for days.

Novelty Effect

People seek out novel experiences. This might be why long after the first boom, people still dine at Nusr-et to eat steak prepared by the chef himself.

Bandwagon Effect

People do certain things based only on the fact that others are doing it. That’s why making the Twitter hashtag trending was so important to fuel the meme’s growth.

Curiosity Gap

People seek missing information. When they saw the first Nusr-et’s content, they all wanted to understand why he films how he cuts the meat or why he makes it in this way.

?Window of Opportunity

Salt Bae shows that hard work pays off, but especially if it comes with some talent and a nose for an occasion. His work ethic brought him to become a chef of a small chain but when he became a meme, he quickly capitalized on it and turned it into a restaurant empire. He didn’t shy away, nor did he try to explain that he’s not making his gestures to be funny, but he ‘blesses the meat’. He just went with the flow he saw.w

Another aspect is in the content – many companies, in all industries, struggle to create content consistently – from the idea to publishing. Nusret made each of his brand’s aspect Instagrammable and shareable, bringing entertainment to the table. That’s inspiring, considering it’s about butchering and a simple gesture anyone could think of – but they didn’t.

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