A Virtually Genuine Facebook Friendship With Applebee's

Ever have an imaginary friend? Chris Zdarsky started corresponding with an Applebee's in Canada as a joke. But that doesn't mean it wasn't real. NPR's Rachel Martin talks with the comic book artist to about his virtual friendship.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Social media has become a form of customer helpline, allowing us to compliment and complain. And increasingly, enormous global companies, that would probably keep you on hold for hours on the phone, respond. But what about creating an ongoing Facebook friendship with an Applebee's? Seem a little crazy? Well, that's exactly what Steve Murray did. He goes by the name Chip Zdarsky as a comic artist and on his online profiles. And we had to ask him why, so we called him up in Toronto. Thanks so much for being with us, Chip.

CHIP ZDARSKY: Oh, thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So, before we go any further, you have to explain how this whole thing started.

ZDARSKY: Well, I don't know if you have parents that are on Facebook. And I saw one day that they had both liked a photo of a hamburger on their hometown Applebee's Facebook page. So, I thought that was really funny, just both of them retirees sitting at home going I like this hamburger. Afterwards, I started scrolling through their Facebook page, and it was just post after post after post of them trying to connect with people and no one responding, which is...

MARTIN: Applebee's the restaurant.

ZDARSKY: Yeah, yeah. Well, it's a local chain. It's not even like Applebee's Canada. It's Applebee's Barrie, which is my hometown. And somehow it struck me as kind of sad. Twice a week they'd post a photo of an appetizer and pose a question like does this look yummy to you? And nobody responded, so...

MARTIN: So, you decided to respond. So, in that case you would say, yes, yes, Applebee's, it does look yummy.

ZDARSKY: Yeah, exactly. And then part of the humor kind of stems from the idea to get them off the playbook. You know, like there was one where I kind of had them on about Halloween and then I asked them for a suggestion of a costume. And they were like how about Batman? I'm like that sounds good. It's so innocuous but it's so funny to get, like, a faceless company to interact on that level.

MARTIN: This stopped being ironic to you. You were just engaging with someone who is behind that account.

ZDARSKY: Yeah. I mean, it was all still towards the joke. But I became a bit protective of them because they did seem so kind of pure and sweet and maybe a little naive. When Applebee's, when they would say something like, you know, wow, thanks, Chip. You know, this means a lot to us, like, I would get a weird lump in my throat, like it means a lot to me too. But it's weird. It shouldn't. It absolutely shouldn't.

MARTIN: Well, and now you might get, you know, pretty good service, maybe a free hamburger every once in a while at Applebee's.

(LAUGHTER)

ZDARSKY: Yeah, yeah. I like to play the long game, you know. Wake up early just for nine months with an Applebee's restaurant tugging at some deep fried shrimp appetizers for free.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Chip Zdarsky. He's a comic book artist in Toronto and a good friend of Applebee's on Facebook. Chip, thanks so much for talking with us.

ZDARSKY: Thanks a lot. I had a good time.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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