Arby's Rebounds With Engaging Multiscreen Ad Strategy

Arby’s Bob Kraut, senior vice president of marketing and advertising, presented a strong case at Thursday’s Ana TV & Everything Video Forum for paying attention to how consumers react to advertising campaigns.

Last year, after enduring a slump that was caused by a poor economy and confusing marketing and off-message menu choices, the company launched a new campaign devised by BBDO, proclaiming Arby’s as the “Good Mood Food” fast-food restaurant chain.

Kraut described the initial effort as “We are the World meets Glee.” The campaign was designed to let consumers know that it was okay to enjoy the chain’s lineup of good-tasting comfort food because it was also relatively wholesome and fresh.

But regardless of the nutritional value, the ads were a viral hit, said Kraut. “We noticed that people started re-mixing ‘Good Food Mood’ spots on YouTube,” said Kraut. “A lot of young people latched onto this,” he said, noting that many of the re-mixes featured kids and families adapting their own humorous lyrics into redone spots.

The remixes prompted the company to develop a user-generated “casting call” contest for new 30-second spots. Entrants had to explain why Arby’s food put them in a good mood. The winner would receive a $10,000 prize and the opportunity to appear in a new Arby’s commercial.

The promotion for the contest was relatively low-key, said Kraut, and limited to online exposure. But the response was overwhelming -- the company received 1,400 submissions, almost five times as many as the company expected.

The submissions were posted on a new Web site and generated 1 million views a month. A new mobile Web site drew 16% of all online views. To draw attention to the effort, the company even filmed a “flash mob” spot in New York’s Times Square.

A social media component featured a Facebook “Philly Zone Page” and a “Tweet Aquarium” for consumers to comment on a new fish sandwich.

Bottom line: the entire cross-platform effort resulted in the highest sales gain the company had seen in a decade. Facebook fans grew over threefold to nearly 800,000, while Twitter followers climbed to over 30,000. And tagline awareness grew 60% in 10 months.

And while 80% of the company’s budget is still reserved for TV  Kraut said “we wanted to extend the message,” given the online response.

While user-generated content is always a risk, Kraut said the company believed the YouTube re-mixes and the response to the contest revealed an untapped reservoir of consumers “who wanted to connect with us.”

During the depths of the recession, said Kraut, the company was hit by a “perfect storm” of bad economy, muddled marketing and confusing shift in menu items that led to a double-digit sales plunge. But with a new integrated marketing campaign that engaged consumers, an improving economy and tweaks to the menu, the company appears to be back on track.

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