Take a Lesson in Laughing at Yourself and Win Big ... Or, How Arby's Rules Advertising

I’m amazed at Arby’s marketing adventures. I remember growing up not really thinking much about Arby’s. It was definitely not one of my favorite restaurants. But of late, it’s really stepping up its game in an impressive way, and people are noticing.

I first started paying attention to Arby’s some time ago when I watched a video compilation of Jon Stewart slamming Arby’s and its products time and time again on the late-night The Daily Show. That’s a lot of negativity. But instead of retaliating, Arby’s embraced it! They played along and actually aired a “thank you” commercial on Jon Stewart’s last show and devoted a sandwich to him.

Their courage to take a leap of faith in the fickle world of marketing where the risks are high and failure is not acceptable is admirable.

No ordinary fast food restaurant

In addition to witty defensive moves, Arby’s is paying attention to strategic opportunities and going on the marketing offensive as well. By its own admission, Arby’s develops advertising that is conversational, authentic, funny and bold. And not only are the advertisements playful and fun to listen to, they’re pushing the 3,300-location restaurant chain beyond the box with innovative ideas and authenticity that other marketers could take a lesson or two from.

Here are a few examples:

  • Longest TV commercial
    Arby’s actually developed a 13-hour commercial to show how long its brisket is smoked. Yes, I really said 13 hours. Not only did it demonstrate a key point about the product, it also landed Arby’s in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest TV commercial.
  • Hot hat
    You may remember during the 2014 Grammy’s, Arby’s tweeted about Pharrell Williams’ hat and ended up scoring big with 75,000 retweets (including a response from Pharrell himself) and more than 40,000 favorites! And several weeks later, Arby’s upped the ante by buying the hat in an Ebay auction to benefit a Pharrell-run charity. Sometimes, the best marketing is just taking advantage of an opportunity.
  • Vegetarian support hotline
    Their brown sugar bacon-induced vegetarian support hotline is a witty departure from the vegan trend, similar in theme to their Leap Day 2016 “vegetarian menu.” These tongue-in-cheek moves show that it pays to know who you are and who your target audience is.

Sweet victory

So is this unorthodox marketing path working? Apparently, yes.

Arby’s guests in the 18- to 34-year-old range has increased by 16 percent. CEO Paul Brown told the Wall Street Journal, “Collectively, what is going on (publicity with Jon Stewart) has resulted in an uplift of business performance.” And according to QSR, Arby’s U.S. system same-store sales has continued to grow for 26 consecutive quarters.

And that’s not all. Arby’s has been named to FORTUNE’s 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials list. According to RestaurantNews.com, “Arby’s is one of three restaurant brands recognized and is the only quick-service restaurant selected… Arby’s has undergone one of the most dramatic restaurant turnarounds in decades.”

It seems like site after site is jumping on the Arby’s bandwagon. I can attest that Arby’s Twitter feed artistry is simply phenomenal, and its entire social media approach is being called “ingenious”.  One site went so far as to pose the question, “Is Arby’s the best social media restaurant around?”

Making fun of themselves, making it all about meat and just generally besting social media outlets — the people at Arby’s are doing it right. Maybe we should get on the Arby’s bandwagon, too. Oh wait, we just did.

Good for you, Arby’s. May your courage rub off on marketing decision makers worldwide.

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