By Jackie Walsh
Trends come and go on TikTok. But one that sticks is the Korean corn dog, with Kong Dog’s new Little Italy location bringing the fad food rage from New York and Los Angeles to Chicago.
The location at 1424 W. Taylor St. opened in December, Kong Dog’s second venue in Illinois after a debut in suburban Glenview last year.
Kong Dog offers Chicagoans Korean-style corn dogs, a savory treat made of pork or beef sausage, mozzarella cheese or a combination of these rolled in batter and coated with a variety of toppings, such as cinnamon sugar and potato.
The twist on the classic food first gained traction on TikTok this past summer, with cheese pulls and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos-coated corn dogs captivating viewers.
The hype online has translated to brick-and-mortar stores like Kong Dog opening to satiate adventurous foodies in cities across the country.
According to Bon Appétit, Korean corn dogs first came to San Francisco in late 2019. After TikTok got a hold of the trend in June 2020, similar spots mushroomed across the country.
Yet, Kong Dog’s ability to bring customers to its restaurants relies on maintaining the viral nature of the product online with its unique innovations for toppings.
According to Emily Han, Kong Dog’s marketing specialist, the content on Kong Dog’s social media accounts featuring its unique product has helped the new location attract customers.
The cheese pulls and clips of the intricately coated dogs are enticing. Han said the goal is to prompt the viewer to wonder “where can I get these?”
Unlike trends on TikTok like whipped coffee and feta pasta that inspire DIY endeavors from viewers, Han said part of the appeal of the Korean corn dog is that its street style makes it the perfect to-go food.
According to Han, Kong Dog’s social media presence is more than the posts that the marketing team shares. A large portion of the content related to the business is generated from customers and the Chicago-based influencers with whom Kong Dog collaborates.
Erica Noblecilla, a Chicago based content creator better known as @ericaeatseverything, is one of the influencers who worked with Kong Dog, documenting her experience visiting the new location for her 30,400 TikTok followers.
Han said Kong Dog’s main promotion is centered around encouraging customers to promote on social media: offering a buy one, get one free corn dog in exchange for following and posting a picture or video of the product on Instagram or TikTok. According to Han, this transaction has created a substantial surge in the amount of content posted by visitors.
“We also invite influencers to come in and try some of our corn dogs, and I know that has helped us grow,” Han said. “People are drawn to new things.”
According to Noblecilla, influencer marketing is unique because of the personality and excitement for the product that is often naturally inserted.
“Sometimes with regular advertising, things can be very salesy,” Noblecilla said. “At the end of the day, I am passionate about food, and that comes through in my videos.”
Han said she prioritizes authenticity when crafting Kong Dog’s social media pages and uses both the posts she generates and those sourced from independent creators.
“I repost a lot of videos that other people make because I know that is more relatable,” Han said. “I also always comment on the posts. I want people to know we are seeing it and that we appreciate the content they make for us.”
According to Han, the success of Kong Dog’s marketing is evident in the consistent crowds the business attracts and the willingness of the customers to share their experiences online, whether their motivation derives from their enthusiasm for the product or taking advantage of the BOGO deal.
As Kong Dog continues to grow and expand its menu to include more Korean foods, Han said that the business will rely on the same marketing tactics for promotion.
“There are not many places like Kong Dog in Chicago,” Han said. “We want to make more content with influencers about that.”
Jackie Walsh is a Sports Media graduate student at Medill.