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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.”

A ‘MOST POPULAR’ POST: McDonald’s amazing Big Mac campaign demonstrates the power of food photography without actually making the food look all that good.

While Selling Eating blogger Charlie Hopper is off on vacation, we’re re-publishing a few of this year’s most popular blogs so far.

AS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON JUNE 14, 2013 (okay, a little over a year ago):

Okay, first enjoy all these spots, which I got from Adweek’s Adfreak column:

My favorite is “Mouth Madness.” What was yours…?

Now, think about the photography of the Big Macs you just saw. Sort of pale. Sort of flatly lit. Sort of drab.

Imagine convincing a restaurant CMO that it’ll be okay if the food is pale and drab and…oh, sort of retro and of-another-decade. 99 out of 99.5 CMOs are going to either run or slowly back away from agreeing to pale, drab, conceptually bizarre, humorously old-fashioned-looking food photography.

“Have as much fun as you want with the concept, but I need the food to look mouth-watering,” is a sentence a restaurant CMO has undoubtably said to his or her agency this week, and will again next week. “Delicious and piping hot!” they added, or will add.

So I’d like to congratulate McDonald’s CMO Steve Easterbrook—or whichever brand manager at the behemoth corporation got behind this campaign—and the ad agency Translation. What a partnership. Here it is: My Congratulations, Everybody.

Because by putting the Big Mac squarely, obviously, photographically, visually, contextually into the 1970s when it was famously introduced (and the 1980s when they managed to sell billions to baby boomers and Gen-Xers), they own not just heritage and brand leadership and category bustingness: they own every memory I ever had of enjoying a Big Mac.

And for the Millennials who may not share my nostalgia, these ads are just f-in’ cool. (“Cool” is still hip, by the way.)

See, food photography is about way more than getting the light just so, and having the food twirl sumptuously, and if at all possible getting in close on a ribbon of chocolate flowing into a swirling pool of other chocolate. It’s about more than the glycerin on the tomato slices and the wetness of the lettuce.

It’s about evoking taste.

Luring me into wishing I could have One of Those, whatever “those” may be.

That’s all. Make me think of having that food—in the context of my beliefs about and affection (if any) for your brand.

That retro type face has as much to do with the taste appeal of those Big Macs as the literal depiction of the famous two all-beef etceteras. These ads remind me that I’m fond of the Big Mac.

I’m not all that crazy about the “Think with your mouth” copy line, actually; it’s fine, it’s whatever, it’s suitable, it’s serviceable, it’s just-okay. But overall this campaign is so deftly evocative of the idea of a Big Mac it’s amazing it even exists.

A ‘MOST POPULAR’ POST: What should a Burger King ad look like?

While Selling Eating blogger Charlie Hopper is off on vacation, we’re re-publishing a few of this year’s most popular blogs so far.


In New Zealand right now, apparently, they look like this.

There’s a couple similarly weird ones, including an aged wealthocrat and his gold-digging Russian bride.

If I have to choose, I prefer it to the middle-of-the-road safety-first stuff they’re doing in America right now. I wish we could have the old Burger King campaign back, but I know about a hundred people personally who have volunteered how much The King creeped them out back when he was the oddly sexualized representative of a mainstream QSR chain.

So maybe The King took things too far for the mass of people required to keep a chain as major as BK in the black. Still, the agency responsible for that royal spokesperv also managed to produce some of the smartest, greatest restaurant advertising I can think of—they managed to tap into their fan’s love for the brand with the Whopper Freakout and Whopper Lust campaigns. They dubbed spicy chicken “Angry,” which is a product concept so strong even the wimps in charge right now can’t best it. And when they updated the “Have It Your Way” campaign, I…well, this is what I said in my book:

“When Burger King revived their “Have It Your Way” theme and updated it for the post-ironic humor-loving generation that we’re apparently all part of now, I loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it— because here was a restaurant with a voice that came at me from all the most clever places, saying things so interesting that I felt the whole organization had become smarter overnight. Turns out I was wrong. But for awhile there, I really believed that Burger King stood for something, and was run by people who knew what the world was about, and would be able to deliver the best of the QSR offerings, promotions, systems for keeping food fresh, hiring, and training great, smart people—I didn’t think all of that consciously, or literally. But this kind of smart idea rubs off on one’s belief system.” – Selling Eating: Restaurant Marketing Beyond the Word “Delicious,” Chapter 21, page 234

I don’t think Sir Roger Poppincock rubs off on one’s belief system in quite the same way.

The “Have It Your Way” idea was so all-encompassing, it extended naturally into every part of the brand (here, I’ll run and grab an assortment of in-store stuff off Google images).

Burger King says to Pull but Push if you want toBurger King could make the “Have It Your Way” idea fit almost anything in the restaurant.

Burger King made everything wrote into a mantra.Burger King writes funny sacks. Well, they used to.

Burger King writes branded signs for the trash, even. Well, they used to.

There. That’s what I think a Burger King ad should look like.