Wednesday, October 3, 2012

When the message gets pissy

Looks like all those negative campaign ads are having an effect on restaurant advertising. Consider, for instance, the mud that’s slung in the new commercials from Arby’s and Domino’s.  

Both chains take aim in the spots at supposedly anonymous competitors that even a dim-witted hermit from the planet Zargon couldn’t mistake as anything but what they are. The target for Arby’s, for instance, is obviously a sandwich chain, with a green logo that’s blurred out but still easy identifiable as “Subway.”

On camera is a retired New York City police detective who explains that he’s uncovered the truth about deli-meat slicing.  The real-life detective then takes viewers to a Midwestern factory-like facility to show where the sandwich meats for the not-so-anonymous green-logged chain is actually sliced. Cut to visuals of turkey being sliced in-store for Arby’s currently promoted sandwich line.

Domino’s is a bit slyer in its approach. Commercials for the delivery giant’s new pan pizzas, a product pitted directly against Pizza Hut’s signature pie, play up Domino’s use of hand-tossed freshly made dough, not the frozen globs that competitors use. The radio commercial acknowledges that frozen dough has its place; you hear a skeet shooter talking about the viability of using the frozen dough balls as clay pigeons.

Comparative advertising is of course not new to the restaurant business. But with sales still proving sluggish at best, and share of market still reigning as a goal, it’s not surprising that us-vs.-them campaigns would gain favor. The difference is the edge evident in campaigns like Arby’s, and the focus on aspects of a meal that are truly back-of-the-house factors, like the state of pizza dough or how meat is sliced.

In both case, the emphasis is on freshness, which infers a better taste, rather than on the taste per se.

And the spots are consistent with the overriding trend in chain foodservice: Better, in this case defined as fresher and more artisanal in a way.

Look for more brands to follow a similar strategy. 

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