Fast-food restaurants are working to master the social media game. Brands like Wendy’s and Burger King have owned their identity as indulgent options for hungry fans and translated that into unique and engaging social media content. In 2015, Arby’s made a marketing shift from discussing its sandwiches in a generic manner to emphasizing the quality of the meat they contain. This position of brash honesty represents a successful shift for Arby’s: "I had to take a stark stance and really sell what I sell and say what I want to say and break away from a lot of the happy-people-running-along-with-sandwiches-in-their-hands kind of advertising," said Robert Lynch, Arby's Restaurant Group brand president and CMO.
Its strategy consists of a combination of menu innovation, advertising and public relations. The shift took the brand away from what J.P. Morgan referred to as “the worst performance in modern restaurant history.” The new focus on high-quality promotional items and the idea that “We Have the Meats” led a full quarter (25%) increase in overall revenue. Arby’s spends an average of over $125 million on advertising each year, and CEO Paul Brown thinks the value of the good press Arby’s receives from its work is worth 40 to 50 percent of its advertising spend.
That’s a high bar to develop buzzworthy advertising guaranteed to get people talking. Previous campaigns include the world’s largest — and smallest — advertisements, as well as banter between the brand and public figures like Jon Stewart. In the arms race between Arby’s and competitors, how does a brand remain ahead of the award-winning work of Burger King and consumer favorites like Wendy’s?
The spot stars comedian H. Jon Benjamin, the voice of Archer (“Archer”) and Bob (“Bob’s Burgers”), as Arby’s official ‘Head of Sandwiches.’ Benjamin directs viewers to call the Sandwich Hotline — 1-833-44-ARBYS — if they are having difficulty selecting which sandwich to order at the restaurant. Viewers can call the number and follow a multiplicity of humorous prompts to receive their “ideal” order. The brand announced the line on its Twitter account, and the spot premiered on NFL Football and ESPN.
This is not the first time Arby’s has developed an assistance hotline. The brand produced the “Vegetarian Support Hotline” in 2015 to promote its brown sugar-glazed pepper bacon. The Hotline offered reassurance for vegetarians who may be tempted by the new product and also premiered on the brand’s Twitter account.
Tell me what I want.
What they said:
“Hello, you have reached me, Arby’s Head of Sandwiches. So, you can’t decide which of our 30+ sandwiches to order? Let’s begin.”
Lessons to be learned:
Go big or go home. — Calling the number provides listeners with a variety of options from which to choose by prompting them with questions ranging from their age to their reason for calling. Answer that you’re older, and Benjamin will raise his voice for assumed hearing issues, and say that you’re at a wedding, and he’ll thank you for considering Arby’s during the important event — despite questioning your decision-making process. The unapologetic wit featured on the Hotline mirrors the tonality and essence of the Arby’s brand.
Choose wisely. — Spokespeople, even minor ones like the Head of Sandwiches, can make or break a brand. Benjamin’s roles in “Archer” and “Bob’s Burgers” solidified his position as a Millennial favorite. The filmography that they know him from matches the voice of the Arby’s brand, and while few people know his face, his voice on the phone should sound familiar to many listeners.
As fast-casual restaurants court this demographic, fast-food restaurants are working hard to reclaim their attention. As brands such as White Castle and Taco Bell launch vegetarian and vegan menu options, other restaurants, like Arby’s, are relying on advertising to speak to them.
Prioritize participants over observers. — Consumers retain more as active participants than as passive observers. Engaging them — even if it’s a small percentage of actual viewers — in the process ensures better retention than for viewing alone.
The humorous and entertaining nature of the call, combined with the multitude of options, positions it as a social activity. Much like a “create your own adventure” story, you want to share it with friends to see their unique results. The shareable nature of the spot encourages viewers and callers to spread the word, eliminating significant barrier to entry and a portion of the effort for the brand.
Consumers trust word of mouth significantly more (74%) than other forms of advertising — and recommendations even more (84%). While conversations about the Hotline do not serve as a direct recommendation, the exercise fulfills a similar purpose.