Legal Sea Foods Stirs The Pot (Again)

Legal Sea Foods

When it comes to advertising, seafood restaurants are generally heavy on the overflowing platter images and light on the message.

Boston-headquartered Legal Sea Foods continues to defy that expectation. Take last year's campaign. To drive home just how "fresh" its fish are, the restaurant chain and its agency, DeVito/ Verdi, plastered the tops of Boston cabs with ads featuring a cartoon fish declaring: "This driver has a face like a halibut." Then they used the same concept on the sides of the city's Green Line trolleys, also expanding the fish's repertoire with other ads that included observations such as: "This line gets around more than your sister."

As intended, the ads got plenty of attention, eliciting both laughs and irritation among the public. The "halibut" version also generated so many angry complaints from trolley drivers -- members of the Boston Carmen's Union, who actually threatened to strike -- that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority had that ad removed.

Legal Sea Foods also uses radio and TV quite frequently. One TV spot showed another cartoon fish swimming up to the camera to announce: "Bite me."

The TV commercials for this year's newly unveiled campaign, called "This Day in Fishing History," offer faux footage of fictional sea captains and tales of what happened to them after they finally achieved the goal of catching a fish good enough to be sold to Legal Sea Foods. One retired to a houseboat, only to drown when he "went to get the paper, and forgot his house was a boat." Another marked his achievement by getting a tattoo of an anchor -- and while at it, also got a tattoo of two women riding a dinghy, to commemorate "a different occasion."

Black-and-white newspaper ads that look, at first glance, like news coverage, play out the theme. One shows a fisherman holding up a huge fish, with a "caption" noting that he has finally sold a fish to Legal Sea Foods and the quote: "This is my proudest accomplishment, completely outweighing the birth of my two children."

The campaign aims to convey that Legal "is in the fish business -- we control our sourcing, so we know exactly when and how each fish was caught, and we select and test [for mercury levels] ourselves for total quality assurance," President and CEO Roger Berkowitz tells Marketing Daily. (Legal, founded by the Berkowitz family as a Cambridge-based fish business in 1950, opened its first restaurant in 1968, but remains "primarily a fish company," according to its official history.)

"Some have expressed disappointment with our humor -- some have even said that we have a warped sense of humor," adds Berkowitz. "We could just show great pictures of fish on plates like other seafood restaurants, and those might be attractive. But we use the tongue-in-cheek ads to underscore our serious message about being in the fish business. This is our point of differentiation."

Legal Sea Foods currently has more than 30 restaurants spanning the length of the East Coast. The "Legal" part of the name came from a family-owned market that dispensed "Legal Stamps" (forerunners of S&H Green Stamps) to customers in the early years.

1 comment about "Legal Sea Foods Stirs The Pot (Again) ".
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  1. James McDonald from SuperString Theory, September 28, 2009 at 12:25 p.m.

    Sorry, but why did a fish company pick a picture of a guy catching a Tarpon...a fish that is never commercially or even recreationally fished for as food to represent this joke? My first reaction as a marketer and an avid fisherman is that I now think less of the company (and a lot less of the agency). It is sloppy research and they could have been equally successful (funny) getting a picture of a huge halibut being caught to achieve the same results.

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