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Over the Moon(Pie)

An advertising alum’s tweet sent MoonPie sales soaring.

Patrick Wells (‘14) was working at Knoxville-based advertising agency Tombras Group and managing social media for MoonPie—a coated graham cracker pie with a marshmallow center—when one of his tweets hit the sweet spot in summer 2017.

After Hostess Cakes tweeted that its Golden Cupcake was the official snack of the solar eclipse, MoonPie’s reply, “lol ok,” went viral, racking up more than 196,000 retweets.

Demand for MoonPies exceeded production capacity for the first time in decades. The company recorded the highest sales in its 100-year history the month after the eclipse. Tennessee’s own Chattanooga Bakery has been making the iconic snack since 1917.

Wells kept up the success, tweeting playful insults to MoonPie critics, insightful exchanges with consumers, and conversations with other brands like Wendy’s. MoonPie’s follows, likes, and retweets soared. In just five months, its Twitter followers alone grew from 5,000 to almost 200,000.

“Our [social media] approach was to simply be different and find a way to do it that seemed effortless from the outside,” Wells explains. “A lot of brands still rely on the soft sell, but people see past that now. So we took a risk and opted for content with a blatant ironic oversell or no sell at all. MoonPie is such a fun brand. It would have been an injustice to be anything but fun.”

Wells, a Greeneville, Tennessee native, was an advertising major who did a stint as a teaching assistant for communications classes while he was a senior. He got an internship at Tombras by networking during the College of Communication and Information’s annual advertising trip to New York. After graduation, Tombras hired him full time.

“It’s those small connections and opportunities that truly get you in the door,” Wells advises students looking for jobs. “Be proactive and keep knocking until a door opens. I promise it pays off.”

“Patrick was a very talented student. He was a strong strategic thinker and excelled in creative writing projects,” says Associate Professor Courtney Childers, who teaches advertising media strategy and social media. “Honestly, he provided a lot of comic relief in class. It’s been fun to watch him succeed in the advertising world so quickly after graduation.”

Wells took that success to another level in 2018 when he was hired as a copywriter by the New York City-based ad agency Laundry Service.

“I want to continue to make creative and disruptive work,” Wells says. “A lot of jobs that are valuable now didn’t exist 10 years ago, so I’m keeping an open mind.”

For students considering social media careers, Wells says jobs have changed remarkably.

“Before, social media jobs were just for kids who knew what a hashtag was,” he says. “But now it’s evolved into a full creative spectrum where everyone has to know what’s going on in the industry. It’s hard to get a job in advertising, especially in creative, if you don’t have a perspective on how social media ticks.”