Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The publicity event is alive, but not necessarily well

A pink ass seldom sells restaurant meals, or at least not outside of certain neighborhoods in New York and San Francisco. But that didn’t divert the marketing ploy from express-line entry into the Restaurant Publicity Stunts Hall of Fame, which might have to open a whole new wing after recent weeks.

Indeed, we may be in a Golden Age of restaurant stunts, a reflection of the need to offset shrinking (or non-existent) marketing budgets with outrageous actions. That factor is changing the very nature of stunts. No longer are they single events, over and done in a flash.

Consider, for instance, how a newcomer to the better-burger market tried to set itself apart from the spatula-wielding pack. Twenty-three-year-old Lakita Evans decided to call her Waco, Texas, outlet Fat Ho. Its specialties include a Sloppy Ho, a.k.a. a brisket sandwich, and a Supa Dupa Fly Ho.

Evans hit the mark. Papers across the nation have reported on her venture, invariably focusing on the name and her age rather than the quality of the food and service.

Many of the reports noted that she was opening a pimp’s walk away from the Gospel Café, a ploy practitioner in its own right.

Neither should (or would) be confused with Buns, a burger joint in Chapel Hill, N.C.

And don’t expect to find More Than a Mouthful Burgers, the signature line of Hooters, a pioneer of the suggestive-name approach.

But the all-time winner of the double-entendre approach has to be Pink Taco, which, some of Reality Check’s readers in stained raincoats have informed me, is slang for female genitalia.

But the gynecology-inspired concept didn’t stop there. Last week, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, the Los Angeles casual restaurant decided to post something decidedly Mexican outside its tony Century City location. It took a donkey, or what patrons of the Gospel Café might know from their bible readings to be known also as an ass, and painted it pink.

The animal was staked outside the mall restaurant, “Pink Taco” written on its flank in what looked like a finger-painting endeavor.

The restaurant got attention, for sure. But unfortunately some of it came from animal-rights advocates, who moved in like vice cops staking out Charlie Sheen’s house. The restaurant agreed never to use a live animal in its promotion again.

But take heart: There’s still a respect evident among restaurant stunt-pullers for the classics. KFC, for instance, used the timeless stunt setting of a skyscraper’s upper floors to call attention to its new $5 bundled lunch meals. At noon today, someone dressed as Col. Sanders will rappel down 38 floors of a Chicago building to deliver lunches to window washers dangling outside the 40th floor.

Reports that the chain considered a flag-pole sitting contest could not be confirmed.

Even more conventional is what Arby’s is doing to introduce its new Grilled Chicken & Pecan Salad Sandwich and wrap—ironically, like KFC’s new lunch deal, a product intended to draw customers away from Subway.

The chain will give away free sandwiches and wraps to customers who buy a 22-oz. soft drink anytime before May 23. Patrons are then invited to vote for which they like better, the Arby’s sandwich or Subway’s Orchard Chicken Salad sub.

There’s been no response from Subway. Maybe it’s thinking up its own stunt.

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