Arby’s: Another floundering fast food chain

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

8 September 2010

Arby’s: Another floundering fast food chain

I guess when it rains, it pours with fast food chains.

It seems we are entering a business phase in which fast food chains think they should all reinvent themselves and spend some serious money in the process. The problem is, as it has always been, none of them have anything to say.

Arby’s is the latest victim of the “If you spend it, they will come” mentality that is rippling through the fast food segment at the moment. First, it was the “I’m thinking Arby’s” campaign that segued ungracefully into their “value menu” campaign. Now, with sales off, Arby’s is shifting their ad strategy to national buys and hiring new creative to execute.   Increased national buys and new creative are all fine and good but what exactly will Arby’s say?

This is a problem facing the entire industry. Bojangles recently shifted their position from the nonsensical but catchy “gotawannaneedagettahava” to the meaningless “It’s Bo time.” Domino’s decided it was actually going to try to make a product that tasted good and now Papa John’s is responding with a huge media spend during the Super Bowl to reinforce its “Better ingredients, Better pizza” message (and all along I wrongfully thought that pizza that tasted good was part of the definition of a pizza delivery).

When sales and revenue are off, many fast food executive now say, “Our advertising is not working for us” and, in typical knee jerk reactionary mode, the decision is made to increase reach and frequency and hire a new agency to give the brand a fresh creative execution.

However, the real issue is not the advertising. It’s the brand strategy. And it’s not the MBA-speak of “go-to-market strategies” or “brand impact.” It is more germinal than that. In fact, the brand strategy should answer a simple question: “What does Arby’s mean?”

Though the question is simple, the answer is not. What can Arby’s mean that is not already claimed by a competitor? Fast food? Value Prices? Good Selection?  No, because those are messages all of the market’s players are saying.

The agency that takes on the creative duties for  Arby’s will undoubtedly fall to the same fate that its current agency, Omnicom Group’s Merkley + Partners in New York (who is not even defending the account), is facing: Seeing flat or declining sales and so the account comes up for review. The truth is that  Arby’s is solving the wrong problem in the wrong order. Strategy must come before execution. If you think you have developed a strategy already, ask yourself if this strategy can be claimed by any competitor in the landscape and if it has emotional resonance with those who do not currently choose you.

Arby’s, at least give your new agency a fighting chance.

See more posts in the following related categories: Branding fast food


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