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Arby’s clarifies its position on meats.


Finally, we have another restaurant that is staking its claim—and I hope they stay with it this time, and don’t keep changing around like some brands I could mention. Arby’s wants you to think of them not as a sandwich restaurant, but as a meat restaurant. At first that sounds potentially gross—until they make you really confront the fact that you love meat.

If you don’t love meat, what are you doing at Arby’s?

Personally, I really appreciate the fact that I now have another example to cite when I’m talking about restaurant brands who know who they are. As of today, I believe Arby’s knows why they exist: to serve great meat. As of last night, when I was watching TV with my two sons (I think it was Cartoon Network during a Bob’s Burgers rerun) and one of these meat ads came on, everyone fell silent and watched; I believe Arby’s is back on the list. I suspect they’ll now be a choice when we’re feeling that we’ve had too many burgers and too much fried food lately—until now, Subway was our choice when we felt that way, but it was by default. Subway doesn’t consistently stand for anything, and they’ve left “great meats” open for Arby’s to steal like a bad dog surfing the counter at a butcher shop. (I spend a whole lot of my restaurant marketing book talking about the importance of defining yourself to yourself, then to the world, so that everything you do can align under that definition—and I offer specific, actionable advice. This is a link to the book. End of self-promo.)

With this commercial (actually, it’s a series), Arby’s begins wielding the power of a simple idea. That meat looks both indulgent and on-the-healthy-side. And don’t we all love when a brand positions itself as the ultimate fans of what they do, making their sales efforts appear to be done more out of love than commerce?

Arby's Wants To Own Meat. Maybe We'll Let Them.

I have high hopes for where they take this #meatcraft business. I think they could end up owning a whole hunk of the food pyramid. Look, people are already playing around with the idea: note, for example, below, where this “Brennen Byrne” tweeter-person is playing with the idea and, perhaps, not displaying the highest standard of respect and tastefulness. But this position demands people take a side. And forcing people to take a side, when your side is the one that’s likely to attract the most paying customers, is a whole lot better than being respectful and tasteful and ignored. Just ask Carl’s Jr.

The Arby’s #meatcraft hashtag screen grab

KFC UK and McDonald’s USA both take about a minute and a half to sell you chicken cinematically.

In a world where people watch only what they want to watch, two companies must use the devices of cinema to sell chicken.

So yeah. That’s some lovely visual story-telling. And it isn’t implausible at all that the dad might deliver a bag of KFC to share with his son (of whom he’s so damn proud), hungry as the boy must be after all that hanging-on. And since this is a UK ad, they’re just playing into the world’s concept of Americana. I must point out, though, by way of educating my colleagues across the wide ocean, there are so many brands who can claim small-town Americana institutional rights that Dad might also deliver a bag of Wendy’s or Subway or Arby’s or (the company who might have done an ad like this in the old days) McDonald’s, but that’s not my point today (maybe tomorrow).

My point today is: Who do they think is going to watch a minute-and-a-half-long chicken restaurant commercial? It’s not a movie trailer, it’s an ad.

Wow. Those are some inspiring chicken parts in that bag.

Wow. Those are some inspiring chicken parts in that bag.

It’s closing in on 150,000 views after about a week. Factor out people like me, who watch it so they can talk about it, and that’s still a fair number of voluntary ad-watchers. Still. Can we really expect a bunch of people to watch an ad that doesn’t do much more than tell a nice story?

What about this? Who’s going to watch this commercial that’s over three times longer than most commercials?

This ad is relying on Lettermanesque, almost-Jackassian stunt-fascination to keep you involved—and if you watch ads for a living, it is more engaging than most. (Yes, we’re in an era where the DIY mentality is so strong you might as well just edit your own version of this advertisement.)

I have two quibbles: One is, I think that in both cases, we’re bringing outside interest to a product that I still don’t think I understand the benefit of. It feels stuffy for me to say that, but I’m just willing to bet the average viewer is not much more likely to choose one of these sandwiches after having mildly enjoyed the diverting entertainments. That doesn’t mean the diverting entertainments are not well done. It means they haven’t figured out a reason for me to change my pre-existing opinions about the kind of food they make and the sort of products they come up with.

Secondly, I think Chipotle has set a dangerous example. Their movie-trailer-length advertisements were doing something that these two are not: they were making a point. The point of those Chipotle stunts was news, and it had substance, and they challenged conventional beliefs about how business has to be conducted. (My favorite is the first one with the Coldplay song; I find it moving, convincing, thought-provoking and actionable; the second is splashier and flashier and might have made a bigger impression on the world in general, but I find it manipulative.)

Since Chipotle has success with the longer format, the temptation for other restaurants is to follow their lead as hungry customer eyes move from the constraints of :30-second ads on TV and :15-second internet pre-roll to this opt-in, social-media-driven kind of movie-trailer-type ad.

The only problem: without an important or compelling point, you’re relying on everybody being really, really bored—so bored they’ll deliberately watch an ad from a major corporation.

Why should they remember to go to KFC or McD after the ads end? Because they’re close to one, maybe—just down the dusty road?

Should viewers buy chicken out of gratitude that these companies invested so much into their entertainment?

I’m dubious.

Applebee’s trademarks “No Tech Tuesday” without actually agreeing it’s a good idea.

Usually when people talk about being “on the wrong side of history” they’re talking about major social issues.

I’m not. I’m just talking about smart phones. And I’ve already gone on record recommending that you join them, since you can’t beat them. Be on the right side. Embrace the smartphone obsessives.

So I searched “Messing Around At Applebee’s” on YouTube, and found people having fun on their phones. Is that so wrong? Yes? No? Yes?

So I searched “Messing Around At Applebee’s” on YouTube, and found people having fun with their phones. Is that so wrong? Yes? No? Yes?

True, it does cause problems. Here’s a Catch-22: a restaurant compared security footage from ten years ago to footage from today, and the result is basically that people took fifty minutes longer to eat now than they did in 2004. They distracted wait staff, slowed down the process, then had the nerve to go online and complain the restaurant was slow—which is only because they’re farting around on their smart phones.

So, for those of us who yearn to return to 2004 and a simpler, chattier, more analog time, Applebee’s is trademarking “No tech Tuesday” and appears to be thinking about encouraging people not to bring their distracting digital devices with them on pre-hump day. On the other hand, Applebeesspokespeopletypes rush to point out it’s not officially “happening,” presumably because they don’t want to be officially anti-digi-device. Clearly they want to welcome all eaters, including rude ones, and they want to be perceived as modern, since some of their facilities have installed table-tablets. They want your money in any situation you’d like to give it to them—with or without checking the Vine video you made while waiting for your food to see how many “likes” it has.

Look, Millennials are having fun with their phones. They’re living in a world where 2004 was a long, long time ago—and there’s nothing we can do to change it. We shouldn’t want to change it.

If you agree, please follow me on Twitter and “like” the bitly link I sent linking you back to this post. Thanks in advance. Oh look, your food’s here.

TGI Fridays has come up with the only summer promo that anyone can remember.

Quick. What is the summer promo at Applebee’s? What’s the big news at Ruby Tuesday? What’s going on at Bennigan’s? Oh wait, nothing is going on at Bennigan’s.

What about Fridays?

Apparently, the investors think “All You Can Eat Appetizers for $10” is stupid. Their remarks boil down to a bunch of naysayers saying, “Nay! Nay! Chipotle and Panera killed casual dining, guys, admit it. This stunt just cheapens your brand (which I-the-investor-community already believe to be dead) and there’s nothing you poor casual dining pub concepts can do but raise prices until literally nobody can afford to eat there.” Then the analysts admit this will probably at least sell some high-margin drinks. Overall, though, they think this will kill the brand.

They think the promotion is a terrible idea.

I disagree. I happen to believe in being interesting. That’s what the public wants. To have their sad, tired brains toyed with now and then, ideally while getting “a deal.”

Isn’t giving away all one’s worldly goods a common sign of depression, which your friends are supposed to be alarmed by?

Isn’t giving away all one’s worldly goods a common sign of depression, which your friends are supposed to be alarmed by?

Sales are “pretty grim” in the casual dine category, so somebody has to do something before the whole grand Fridays concept just faaaaaades away. Even Brian Gies, the Fridays U.S. CMO, gets that the restaurant is stuck in what he artfully calls a “combo-meal malaise.”

I don’t know the realities of their balance sheets. I do know this: Having just gotten off the road (see previous blog entries), and therefore having eaten at a whole lotta restaurants recently, I know that every single restaurant is trying to get me excited about their summer plans. I’ve dubiously given the onceover to many, many tall, skinny, colorful Summer Menu inserts. They spill out of the regular menu or get in my way, and I get overwhelmed and give up and order what I always order. I can’t tell you anything about any of these restaurant’s summer menus, even the ones I’ve moved out of my way several times over the last few weeks.

I can tell you everything about Friday’s after just a couple exposures to it. It’s a simple idea, and it might even be unusual enough to mention to friends. It just might work. I think they should make an even bigger deal out of it than they are.

Does it cheapen the brand? I don’t know. They were always about fun. Their brand is “fun, like a Friday,” right? This is fun—obviously sort of a dare, like The Old 96er.

And they have the audacity to be interesting.

Wendy’s does the exact right thing for a major alternative burger chain.

Pretzel buns offer an alternative to non-pretzel buns. They’re good, and people like them. So here they are. They’re back.

What can we say about this video? Well, it’s a good-humored alternate use of tweets. They hired a couple actors and a production company to treat the tweets as a parody of a love song, offering an alternative to actual viral videos you might be watching today.

Wendy’s has to live its life as an alternative to something. To McDonald’s, to Burger King, to Subway, to “better burger” places (being, at least at various times in its marketing life, a “better burger”). They’re rarely the only one in any situation, except when it comes to these pretzel buns. Arguably they dominated the category with that promo.

So: pretzel buns are back. And so are the tweets that prove people love them, they really, really love them.

And so am I. As many of you …no, as maybe one or two of you possibly (maybe) noticed, I went on vacation. I drove around in a minivan allllll over America the last three or four weeks, first Westward, then Eastward. I have lived the interstate life.

Ugh. No. We’re not there.

One observation: one is never very far from deciding between Subway or Fast Food. Yes, there’s snacks from the gas station, and yes, there’s casual dine choices starting with Cracker Barrel and Denny’s and, depending on the population of the nearest town to your exit, ever-more-costly casual dining choices or local one-off diners.

But over and over, interstate exchanges ask you to decide between Subway, gas station snacks, and fast food. And in that choice, Wendy’s is often a major contender—but rarely the only one. They’re A Major Alternative.

A perpetual underdog.

No wonder Dave Thomas worked for them so well, for so long, in such a way they really can’t get very far without him. He LOOKS like an underdog. They finally recaptured some of that with their current spokeswoman—although she’s essentially an alternative to Flo of Progressive fame.

In fact, doesn’t this current ad remind you mostly of something Flo (with her very, very heavy media rotation) would do?

When Flo has more media, she’s the overdog. Wendy’s is the underdog.

When you get tired of real funny videos, or best-selling burgers, or non-Pretzel buns, or gas station snacks, Wendy’s will be there for you. Ready to fill her name in the box marked “other.”