Content + Context + Cat Equals Applebee's QR Success

We finally found a QR code campaign my wife can get behind. Just add a cat. To get Mobile Insider newbies up to speed, my inarguably better half has become the nemesis of mobile 2D codes, because she has to play my wingman during my regular code hunts for meaningful campaigns. She watches my back as I block busy mall routes and appear to be a crazy person snapping cell phone pictures of random walls and signage. “Nothing to see here,” she advises passersby who start circling the middle-aged dude taking pictures of nothing. “Can we please just shop like normal people for once?” she begs.

The cat that caught her eye this time is for what is hands down the most creative and effective use of mobile codes I have seen in recent months. Let me refer you to the detailed story I wrote the other day for Mobile Marketing Daily on the Applebee’s franchisee Thomas and King and its deployment of a mobile campaign to support a “14 Minute Lunch Guarantee.” This third largest franchise owner for the chain runs 89 Applebee’s outlets in the Ohio/Kentucky regions and in Arizona.



In essence, the campaign leverages the table-top material at the restaurants to offer people waiting for their lunch three QR code opportunities. In two of the offers on this table tent you use the code to pull in a video that can actually be placed atop the print graphic of a person or cat to play an animated mouth narrative.

This campaign overcomes so many common mobile marketing faux pas -- and especially QR code silliness -- on so many levels, I hardly know where to start.

First, from a consumer’s perspective, the call to action actually telegraphs why you should even snap this code, delineating precisely the content experience it will deliver. It illustrates the process and the result in a wholly fun way that even seems to mock the ubiquity of these ugly codes. Putting a QR code in a cat and a woman’s open maws is borderline creepy, but it becomes fun once you use them. Better still, the deliverables are an extension of a popular TV campaign for the 14-minute menu that includes the woman in the print creative and the gratuitous cameo of this “TableCat” character, who is there only because cats have become a weird viral meme among office-dwellers.

Second, this use of the code is all about the experience and entertainment: not a coupon, not a Facebook Like for no good reason, not just another mobile video. The brand is not asking anything of you. They aren’t offering a single hoop to jump through -- no hurdle between you and having a little fun. The brand is serving you. You are not made to feel that you are doing something for them and helping a marketing dweeb check off one of their boxes for a “Like” or an email address.  

Third, the campaign shows a superb sensitivity to context  to the actual situation. “I’m just here to keep you company while you wait for that delicious Applebee’s lunch,” says the cat in a wry tone. (Play the TableCat mouth animation video on the YouTube page.) He even asks if you are being stared at by fellow patrons watching you hold a phone up to a table tent and offers to yell at them. Come on, this is smart content that endears the brand to users by acknowledging where they are and what they are doing, making it all into a joke.

Rather than being interruptive or distracting from another activity, this is a QR prompt that is offering to enhance the experience of being where you are.

And further, the execution is immediately shared. Patrons are holding the phone up to their own mouths to become the TableCat. They are introducing newcomers to the joke. And they are sharing the videos on Facebook and YouTube. The campaign has had over 66,000 activations now. And the TableCat has now become a brand mascot. Don’t miss the cat’s video review of the iPhone 4S Siri feature also on that dedicated YouTube page.  

This is also a mobile campaign that comes from a small shop in Kentucky, inspired by its creative team going out and having lunch. The Chief Creative Officer of Cornett Integrated Marketing Solutions, David Coomer, tells me that they recognized how each of them used their phones to fill in the waiting time and figured the brand could become the entertainment source to fill the void. Unlike the product of oh so many larger agencies, this is not a campaign that bears the tracks of countless departments that need to be served, each inserting their own marketing requirement.

The beauty of this campaign is that it shows how powerful a combination contextualized content can be. It is using mobile to enhance a moment and a place, and the brand gets all the credit for being clever and convivial enough to pull it off.

Marketers keep chasing this idea of a brand getting closer to consumers, leveraging the intimacy of mobile, doing one-to-one marketing. This Thomas and King/ Cornett execution actually makes the solution seem pretty easy. Having a “conversation” with consumers is not hard if you do what anyone having a good and rewarding conversation does in real life: understand the other person, the immediate situation, and add something to the moment. Use mobile to become that guy you want to invite to lunch. These tools wisely used let the brand simply become the funniest person at the table. 

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