It started out as what appeared to be a genuine prank involving a giant cardboard cutout and a Midwestern gas station chain. But now the truth has been revealed, and fans of the viral TikTok scheme are angry.
If you missed the stunt, here’s what you first need to know: Author Kyle Scheele, with over 3 million TikTok followers, posted a video explaining how he created a bigger than life-size cutout of himself and a pizza guitar to mysteriously leave in a Kum & Go. He said he knew he could get away with it when a local worker said they have no idea when cutouts are supposed to arrive since corporate handles “all of that.”
The cutout advertised “The Kyle Scheele Meal” — a play on the growing trend of “influencer meals” bearing the names of celebrities at restaurants and other businesses — and described it as “delicious.”
A whole bunch of people started tagging Kum & Go, leading the convenience store to reply, “We won’t tell if you don’t.”
Two days later, Scheele updated his followers in a video highlighting photos from “mostly strangers” who sent selfies of themselves in front of his cutout. People even tried to order the meal, he said, but employees had no idea what it was. Others took to Kum & Go’s TiKTok begging the chain to make the meal real.
The brand said it was “coming soon,” but Scheele said he wasn’t sure if they were serious.
Sure enough, in another two days, Scheele said he and Kum & Go leaned into the idea, along with Red Bull, to create a real meal. The meal consisted of a Red Bull and two slices of pizza for $5. Kum & Go was to donate $2 from each meal, up to $10,000, to the No Kid Hungry nonprofit. Red Bull was also to match the donation.
It became a real thing, and the video updates got millions of views. Scheele also began selling merchandise, saying $2 from each purchase would go to No Kid Hungry.
But was it all planned?
About a month after Kum & Go announced the Kyle Scheele Meale, Adweek shared its “scoop on the campaign that fooled America (for a good cause).”
The advertising publication reported the brand partnered with the TikTok creator because of his “brand of humor.”
“We really thought if we were going to make this thing take off, it wouldn’t just (entail) finding someone that had a lot of followers,” Kum & Go’s director of brand marketing Matt Riezman told Adweek. “It was about finding someone that would build a story with us that people would just be really interested in.”
Together, Kum & Go and Scheele created the campaign to “promote the brand’s own version of a purpose-driven celebrity meal,” according to AdWeek.
The apology — and the truth
AdWeek’s article took off, and fans got angry.
So, on Nov. 30, Scheele took to TikTok with what he called “an overdue apology.”
“I’ll cut to the chase,” he said. “I messed up and I’m sorry.”
He then explained what actually happened. In the TikTok, he says he “ended up on a call with Kum & Go” following a “random Twitter message” earlier this year. He says they asked him for his “craziest idea,” and he presented the idea of an influencer meal.
“They liked the idea of a non-celebrity celebrity meal,” he said.
Brands often serve celebrity influencer meals as part of specific campaigns to promote a certain product, food or deal. Recently, Starbucks partnered with Taylor Swift on “Taylor’s Latte” alongside her new re-recorded “Red” album and Starbucks red cups. McDonald’s has teamed up with Mariah Carey with the “Mariah Menu” and 12 days of deals.
After discussing the idea with Kum & Go, Scheele says the company gave him creative freedom and permission to “run wild.” Scheele says neither he nor the company expected this to blow up as much as it did, and all his reactions were genuine.
Still, Scheele says he wishes he was honest from the beginning.
The angry fans
“You sold that stunt as more genuine than this apology,” one person replied.
“This video has ‘sorry, not sorry’ energy,” said another.
“Sigh,” replied another TikToker. “Next thing we’ll find out Noodle is sponsored by a big bones company.”
“I think it blew up BECAUSE people liked the randomness and the way something good seemed to happen accidentally, and that’s why people are angry,” wrote another.
Scheele replied, “I completely understand that, and I’m sorry to let people down.”