Why Most Restaurants Need a Better Creative Agency

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We all know the importance of breakthrough creative advertising for any brand or category. In the sea of sameness that is the restaurant category, an effective ad campaign is what often separates the industry leaders from the pack.

Today, the restaurant landscape consists of a handful of “haves” and then, hundreds of “have-nots.” The haves are killing the competition: maintaining significant margins, reporting consistent growth and sales increases, attracting strong franchisees and of course, building brand preference and driving volume simultaneously. The have-nots are giving away food (“2 for $20,” etc.), reporting consecutive quarters in the red and struggling to keep their franchisees and/or investment partners at bay.

Millward Brown recently ran a study on award-winning creative work and determined that it is 2,000 times more likely to be effective. I know that marketers generally tend to be leery of creative awards; but, strong creative works.

You can pretty much tell who the haves and have-nots are just by watching TV. Chipotle, Panera, Taco Bell, Subway and Popeye’s are a few restaurant brands killing the competition with breakthrough creative. Particularly impressive are the effects of recent strong creative on formerly stale, struggling brands like Arby’s and Church’s Chicken.

And, the have-nots? Just look at the new McDonald’s work, or Wendy’s, or Burger King’s or Olive Garden’s or Golden Corral’s. Is it bad? No, it’s worse — it’s mediocre. And it all looks the same.

7 tell-tale signs you need a better creative agency:

  • Your ads look and sound like everyone else in the category (wet meat, steaming vegetables, price/item, LTO-message only) and lack strong, memorable creative concepts
  • Your agency has stopped constantly bringing fresh ideas to you; they’ve lost enthusiasm for your business
  • Your agency has continuing employee turnover on your account, particularly in the creative department
  • Your Social Media/Digital Content/Community Management marketing doesn’t translate or connect to sales increases
  • And, of course, you are struggling to maintain strong margins because you are giving food away
  • You system’s unit growth has ceased
  • Same-store sales are flat

Sometimes, even great creative agencies like Wieden + Kennedy and CP+B drop the ball — as they have recently with KFC and Applebee’s respectively. The reason? It’s hard (really hard) to cram a memorable creative concept into the restaurant commercial “formula.” You’ve got to show the food, you’ve got to show the deal…that only gives you a few precious seconds to execute a strong concept as well. I believe this makes the restaurant category the most challenging creatively.

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