What’s the Beef?
Beef seems a rather newsworthy topic these days. First, the 38% Taco Bell scandal (frankly, I’m surprised there is that much real beef in their taco meat). Just when we thought it was safe to swim in the erstwhile Mad Cow waters, and our national taco stand belies public trust with beef that is nearly two-thirds not. The resulting vitriol from special interest groups and the public grew to incendiary proportions. You would think they were guilty of bio-terrorism or something. I fail to see the logic in any legal complaint grounded on the claim that QSR chains disingenuously sell nutrition or food value. No, duh. We don’t need Morgan Spurlock or even Owen Marshall to know that. Imagine a class-action suit founded on the fulcrum of fast food total disclosure? Count me out and save the stamp for the time-sensitive proxy vote mass mailer.
On the heels of this national QSR beef debacle, America’s Last Roast Beef Stand, Arby’s, has rolled out a new advertising campaign to breathe life into their anachronistic brand. I have always loved Arby’s — the Jamocha Shakes, the Beef n’ Cheddar, the Horsey Sauce. Ever since Roy Rogers disappeared, Arby’s has been the last dinosaur standing in the roast beef subcategory of QSR. And for an unashamed beefy guy like me, that fostered an enduring courtship that has become a rare and reliable relationship. Extra rare.
So Arby’s recent business struggles hit particularly close to home. For awhile it seemed as if the brand was on the brink of extinction. They disappeared from the QSR conversation, with the possible exception of old-school carnivores like myself. Faced with the looming anxiety of roastbeefophobia, I began tracking the brand, its value proposition and its equities and tried to figure out if America really wanted a (kinda) roast beef sandwich out of a window.
Certainly, the brand faced more than enough external obstacles. For one, Subway changed the SANDWICH conversation with the $5 foot long (Arby’s average ticket is 30% higher for half the sandwich). For another, Chick-Fil-A delivered on a perceptibly healthier and tastier product. But, more than anything, the new economy forever cemented dollar menus and value meals as staples in the QSR world. Arby’s, had none and couldn’t get out of their own way to boot. They lost their way, rolling out something called a roastburger (it was NOT actually burger, but… you guessed it, it was a roast beef sandwich). Talk about confusing your customers and torpedoing your point of differentiation.
Enter a hotshot new CMO with high-profile creative campaigns in his portfolio and a commitment to rebuilding the brand. How do you make a high-waisted khaki clothed, bad wristwatched, short-sleeved-dress-shirt-wearing square like Arby’s seem cool? Or relevant? Or, how about if we just start at tolerable? You do what Burger King did when it was in the scrap heap of QSR also-rans: you hire a hot creative ad agency to speak to your core in a cool way. Arby’s is a bit of a cult, a 3,600 unit cult, but cultish among QSR’s nonetheless. You grow your cult by speaking to your core and inviting others to listen in.
Enter BBDO NY, the agency renown for big-budget, celebrity spokesperson TV commercials. When Arby’s hired them in December, I couldn’t wait to see what they were cooking up — maybe Charlie Sheen? Someone topical and unapologetic — “I’m rarely hungry, but when I am, I go to Arby’s because it’s better for you than drugs”. That would have been pretty cool. Or maybe even Clint Eastwood selling his line and doing a $10 million spot “Go ahead, make my day. I’ll take an Angus Wrap Combo.” Why not? Chrysler spent $11 million for a Super Bowl spot 15 months after a federal bailout and sold Eminem back to us as nationalism. I mean if you’re not going for the big TV spokesperson thing, why hire BBDO? Not to do guerilla or live billboards, I hope.
Ironically, it was Crispin Porter + Bogusky that resorted to spokespeople for Burger King (quirky types like Darius Rucker, Erik Estrada and Tony Stewart). But, they featured them in cool, non-linear ways. Shockingly, BBDO and Arby’s didn’t. The new campaign broke last week. And I’m not quite sure what to make of it. It’s so un-BBDO and un-Arby’s that I’m actually stunned beyond immediate comment. I feel a bit like the audience at “Springtime for Hitler”, the play-within-the-play of the Broadway revival hit, “The Producers”. At first, my jaw dropped — not just as an ad guy, but as a member of the Arby’s cult. I felt a bit like they were “insulting my Fuhrer” (another “Producers” reference). And then, I laughed. And then laughed louder, and harder; so by the end of the first :60, I had laughed so hard, I was nearly crying. And I’m not sure if I laughed at the spot, or the irony.
Truth be told, Arby’s is the genuinely quirky brand compared to Burger King. And what BBDO has given us is a quirky “vehicle”: a Conan-esque Everyman character leading Fast Foodies through hybrid “We are the World”-meets-“Glee” verses with Mitch Miller bouncing ball lyrics super-imposed on the bottom of our screen. The new tag line,”Good Mood Food” is supposed to remind us that we are better off when we eat at Arby’s. It’s a choice that we should feel good about. At least better than the way we feel after eating a re-heated frozen puck that somewhat resembles a burger; or that meat they pull off the waxed paper at Subway; or the chicken they fry in pickle brine at Chick-Fil-A. And without question, certainly better than a visit to Taco Bell.
I’m still somewhat stunned by it all. So, for once, I don’t have an opinion. Not yet, at least. I invite you to influence it (role reversal is sexy). This is the first ever Palma Poll. The new Arby’s campaign from BBDO. Yay or nay? Comments welcome.