A few months ago, Zaxby's was still a chicken business built on lunch orders and live sports. But when the pandemic shut down the sports world and did away with lunch hours, the chain shifted gears. It redirected ad spending into OTT, leading to a 36% increase in sales during the COVID-19 stay-at-home period.
"When live sports didn't exist anymore, we had to pivot quickly," says Joel Bulger, Zaxby’s chief marketing officer. "We had to figure out how to find our guests."
It also had to figure out what, exactly, to sell them. Like other restaurants, sales had dropped significantly, Bulger says. "Before the pandemic, we were primarily a lunch business, so we had to determine how to speak to people's needs. They needed something easy, affordable and enough to feed the whole family."
By early April, the QSR was rolling out the $25 Family Pack, "and business took off again." Already equipped with drive-throughs in its 900-plus stores, "we gave Mom or Dad something to bring home for dinner that felt like normal," Bulger says.
New advertising was a challenge, but the company was able to pull from its library of spots. Themed "You have a lot on your plate, let us put a lot on your table," the ad aimed to create an empathetic message, he notes.
Where to run the ads was trickier. Connected TV, especially in the gaming category, turned out to the answer.
It worked so well, Bulger tells QSR Land, that "while lots of brands were backing off spending, we added almost 40% to our budget." Working with SpotX, the global video ad platform, "we knew we had a better chance to reach guests in more specific, more measurable ways."
"Zaxby's buys had been so connected to sports, and we had to track where those eyeballs had gone," says Kyle Benn, vice president, mid-market, demand facilitation for SpotX. "As we looked into programming, we realized that gaming and esports were really taking off."
Bulger says the connection has been close to ideal. While Zaxby's had begun advertising within gaming content last summer, the category has gained attention in the absence of major-league sporting events, especially among the 18-to-34 year-olds the brand is most interested in. "This demographic fits so perfectly for us," he says,."We're even sponsoring some teams. It's a category that isn't going to go away, even as conventional sports programming comes back."