When fast-food chain Chipotle sent out a series of confusing and nonsensical tweets Sunday, it was clear the company's Twitter account had been hacked.
In fact, the chain even sent out a final tweet at the end of the day saying, "Sorry all. We had a little problem with our account. But everything is back on track now!"
However, it seemed strange when no hackers stepped forward to claim responsibility for working to topple the restaurant's Twitter feed. But it turns out that was because it was Chipotle itself that staged the hack.
That's right, the entire hack was a publicity stunt in order to "spark conversation," Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold told CNET.
"The idea was to do something with our social media that would get people talking and that would fit well within the context of the 20th anniversary that we are doing," Arnold said. "This is far more hoax than hack."
For its 20th anniversary, the chain has been conducting a promotional online scavenger hunt called "Adventurrito," where participants are supposed to solve puzzles every day for 20 days. Those who succeed get a year's worth of free burritos, and some of those winners are eligible to compete in a grand prize puzzle to win free burritos for 20 years. More than 300,000 people are registered for the promotional game.
The confusing tweets posted on Chipotle's Twitter feed Sunday were peppered with clues to help users to solve the day's puzzle.
"What we were saying with the supposed hacked comments was essentially a bunch of gibberish," Arnold told CNET. "But, it also allowed us to reveal the content for that clue, which was a recipe for guacamole."
Arnold said the company hasn't experienced negative backlash from staging the fake hack; in fact, he said it has received a lot of positive feedback, while also gaining a boatload of new followers.
Typically, the company gets between 250 and 300 new Twitter followers in a day, but after the bogus hack it gained more than 4,000 new followers. The tweets were also widely shared. Normally, Chipotle tweets are retweeted about 75 times, but those on Sunday were retweeted roughly 12,000 times.
"People were onto this pretty early on," Arnold said. "It was really intended to spark conversation and it did that in a way that was fun and playful and not mean-spirited."