Commentary

Buffalo Wild Wings And TGI Fridays Debut New Campaigns For Sports And Appetizer Fans

In one of the sweeping romantic gestures that define me as a husband and a soul mate, I recently surprised my wife with a new electronic toothbrush. I was in the market for one of my own and, whoa, wouldn’t you know it - Costco had a terrific deal on a two-pack. As it usually does in the movies, the bestowal of dental bling provided all the kindling we’d need for a raging nightfire of periodontal passion.

Not that we operate on the quid pro quo system here at Dobrow Manor, but clearly it behooves my wife to attempt to one-up me on the generosity front. A possible, if outmoded, response would be to fill my facehole with the sorts of sumptuous foodstuffs that our new toothbrushes are designed to neutralize. But I’d like to use this public forum to urge her not to go the fill-tummy route - and, more specifically, not to abandon me in or around a Buffalo Wild Wings or TGI Fridays outpost. Anything but that. Please.

I enjoy beer and wings and bacon-glazed calamari and sports-type cheering. I enjoy indulging in said things/activities with other people, provided they’ve been vetted and deloused. But something about the approaches of Buffalo Wild Wings (forced cheer, aggressive hyper-inclusivity) and TGI Fridays (appetizers appetizers appetizers and screw you App Store for nuking our easy shorthand) makes me place the two chains between Yakutsk and Satan’s molten koi pond on my list of places to never visit, not even under threat of kickpunching.

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I don’t know why this is (cough! cranky old person! cough!); the problem can’t possibly lie with me (it’s drafty in here! the kids never call! I will now clear my sinuses!). Still: book me a booth at a grimy transit-hub McDonald’s before you plop me down in Buffalo Wild Wings or TGI Fridays.

If that’s how I felt about both brands before I took a look at their new, 32.5 percent zanier campaigns, you can imagine how I feel about them now. It turns out that Buffalo Wild Wings isn’t content to be perceived as a vibrant venue for watching the big game while inhaling deep-fried vittles; it wants to be known as “B-Dubs,” a totally outrageous bunch of itinerant wingmeisters who are up for anything, except vegetables. Similarly, TGI Fridays is no longer a food-n-friends post-work destination; it’s a place for urbane sophisticates who can grasp the Algonquin-esque wit embodied by anthropomorphized appetizers who sing.

At least TGI Friday’s newfound wackiness, on proud display in its “Unionize” clip, doesn’t feel entirely out of touch with its existing brand proposition. As noted before, TGI Fridays is all about delivering mounds of nutritionally monstrous appetizers; in its mind, it is to appetizers what Moses was to inscribed tablets of stone. The bit here is that the appetizers aren’t too keen on whatever deal TGI Friday’s is currently offering, so they decide to unionize. Then they start singing - because, see, “unionize” sounds something like “harmonize.”

To summarize: TGI Fridays can still bury visitors six feet deep in appetizers, but those appetizers might join forces with their better-organized brethren in the American Federation of Hosiery Workers and, in doing so, rise to smite their over-sated masters. Buffalo Wild Wings makes a similarly vague threat, cannily posed as a question - “where will we bring the B-Dubs next?” - at the end of “B-Dubs Alive Events: Grad Crashers Edition.” Unlike TGI Fridays, however, Buffalo Wild Wings uses its clip to showcase big, “fun” ideas for the extension of its brand (née “we are huge fans of sports fans”).

It attempts to add a have-wings-will-travel component to its brand - which goes against everything the chain has preached in its marketing, the visual elements of which are consistently set in BWW restaurants. The idea behind the “B-Dubs Alive Events” appears to be that B-Dubs is all about the party. But hasn’t the chain gone out of its way to limit its definition of a “party” to a gathering in a closed setting involving sports and people yelling enthusiastically, with cold beer and steamy wings close by?

If so, then the party depicted here by B-Dubs - is there anything that screams “authenticity!” like a self-appointed nickname? - feels like a random, senseless departure for the brand. In the clip, B-Dubs shows up at the house of a kid named Sam and super-caters his “grad party” (who has the energy nowadays to articulate all four syllables of “graduation”?). They bring along a mascot, a Vikings wide receiver who destroyed thousands of 2014 fantasy football teams and enough wings to effect lasting damage upon the plumbing infrastructure in Sam’s ‘hood.

What’s missing here, you ask? How about beverages? How about actual sports, as opposed to a C-grade jock trotted out for selfie duty? How about, you know, fun?

It’s unfair to rip on Sam, because who knows how much he was led to expect in advance of his rad “grad party.” But man, I’d contribute to a GoFundMe campaign to get the poor kid a charisma transplant. He can’t even sell the appreciative sentiment at the end of the clip (“I will remember this experience forever. I am never going to forget my grad party”). It comes out sounding almost apologetic.

In short, B-Dubs attempts to burnish its life-of-the-party credentials basically by screaming WE ARE THE LIFE OF THE PARTY into a megaphone at close range. If the chain really believes that this will provide the booster shot of mirthful whimsy the brand needs (I’d argue it doesn’t need any such shot, but rather a circumspect dialing-down of the place-you-gotta-be positioning), it might as well start serving cold cheese sandwiches and off-brand colas. That’d have the same ultimate effect on the chain’s future prosperity.

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