Viral Marketing Case Study: Taiwanese Change their Names to ‘Salmon’ for Free Sushi

It could be the best viral marketing campaign of the year. Do you like eating sushi? If you do, what would you do in exchange for free sushi?

A sushi restaurant chain in Taiwan offered free sushi for two days if their clients changed their name to Salmon. Do you think it worked? Read the following story to learn something useful for your next viral marketing campaign.

Sushiro’s Viral Marketing Campaign created a Salmon Chaos

Sushiro (スシロー  ) is a well-known Japanese conveyor belt sushi restaurant established 36 years ago. The Taiwanese branch launched this month an insane promotional campaign to create some buzz on social media.

The campaign was called:  愛的迴鮭,尋人啟事|「ㄍㄨㄟ」「ㄩˊ」在哪裡,快點迴家吧!(Loving Salmon, Missing Notice|Where are “ㄍㄨㄟ” and “ㄩˊ”, hurry home! 】It was aimed at people who love eating Salmon and have some phonetic Chinese names similar to Salmon. The campaign only lasted two days from 17/3 to 18/3 and was applicable to all sushi bar counters in Taiwan. 

Below you can find the promotional message posted on Facebook and Instagram:

Image source: Sushiro’s Facebook Page –

Salmon in Chinese is made of two characters, 鮭 “gui” and 魚 “yu”. Clients with their name pronounced “gui” or “yu” got 10% off, people with two characters pronounced “gui” and “yu” got 50% off, and people with the exact same characters for salmon ate for free. See the example below:

  • 10% off: Yu Xiaoming, Chen Xiaogui
  • 50% off: Wang Guiyu, Chen Yugui
  • Free: King Salmon (homonymous with the same word)

The promotion was only applied for Chinese names and couldn’t be combined with other discounts. The clients had to show their ID cards at the checkout counter and the discount was only valid up to 6 people per table.

It seems obvious that Sushiro’s main goals were to increase the number of social media followers, generate some online buzz, bring traffic to their restaurants, and increase the number of downloads of the app to make the reservations.

Did people accept the challenge and change their name to get free sushi?

Consumers usually consider the pros and cons of buying a product. The Taiwanese can change their name at least three times and this procedure only costs USD 3.

The cost is ridiculously cheap compared with the benefit they will get.  Therefore, more than 200 people, according to Taiwan’s household registration office, rush out and changed their names. Some of them were really creative and registered some funny names such as:

“Salmon Liu”
“Whirlpool Naruto Salmon Xie”
“Die (like salmon) Together Pan”
“Salmon Dream Chang”
“Hotness Salmon”
“Dip Wasabi and Eat Salmon”
“Can’t Help but Want to Eat Free Salmon”
“Explosive Good-looking Salmon”
“Salmon Prince”
“Meteor Salmon King”
“Salmon Fried Rice”

There was one client that decided to add 36 new characters to his name. Most of them seafood themed, including the characters for “abalone”, “crab” and “lobster” probably to get the benefit of potential new promotions from other restaurants.

These voracious Salmon Eaters called the “Salmon Gang” reported eating for all six meals on Wednesday and Thursday. Some of them ate around $460 (NT$13,000) of sushi in one go. After that, they posted online: “I do not think we will want to eat salmon again for a while”.

Did Sushiro’s viral marketing campaign achieve the goals?

Despite all the free sushi they had to give away, the company considers the promotion a success. At least one thousand people had participated in the campaign.

Currently, Sushiro’s Facebook page has 80.945 followers and the Facebook post announcing the promo got 7.6K likes, 8.4K comments, and 2.2K shares.  If we check Sushiro’s Instagram page they have now 7.590 followers and the post got 1.889 likes and 401 comments. Due to a higher increase in engagements compared with the previous posts, we can consider that it went viral.

Image Source: Sushiro’s Instagram Page –
Image source: Sushiro’s Facebook Page

But, the biggest achievement of the campaign is how it generated not only domestic media attention but also international media attention. The Guardian, BBC, NBC News, New York Post, Business Insider, and much more media covered this viral marketing campaign:

Image Source: The Guardian –
Image Source: NBC News –

Due to this unprecedented success, Sushiro is now considering whether the next promo should be based on tuna or eel.

The negative effects of the viral marketing campaign

The government also unintentionally promoted the campaign by discouraging citizens not to frivolously change their names. The campaign left an onslaught of paperwork for local government officials to process and was wasting government time.

Another negative effect is one student who changed his name to Salmon Dream and had to stuck with his new name for the rest of his life. The student didn’t know that his mom has already changed his name twice when he was a child.

What are the key points of this campaign?

Sushiro has a good understanding of their audience and knows what motivates them to take action. They created a really attractive offer: free sushi for people whose name is salmon. The offer was remarkable and because they have presence throughout the country, everyone was talking about it.

At the same time, the requirements to get the prize were quite bold and exclusive. Not everyone would consider changing their name except for the real sushi lovers, the kind of evangelists that every brand wants alongside.

The promotion was deployed on social media and it helped to go viral easily. Taiwanese people started to share the promo, change their names and share the pictures with free sushi on the table.

Finally, it attracted the attention of the media because this social phenomenon was newsworthy.

I hope this case study will let you consider other ways to create a viral marketing campaign. If you need more info about viral marketing, don’t miss my previous articles:

6 Rules for a Message to Go Viral on the Internet explained with examples – The secret sauce of Viral Marketing Part 1

How to Effectively Distribute your Viral Message – The Secret Sauce of Viral Marketing Part II

In case you want to get more info about Taiwan Social Media Landscape, don’t miss this report:

7 Facts on Taiwan Digital Marketing and Social Media.


Jose Maria (Chema) Lopez

A Madrid Polytechnic University International MBA has worked as a global marketing director in B2B and B2C international leading companies implementing global marketing and communication strategies to ensure business objectives and to optimize brands’ reputation and visibility on a global level.

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