How Arby’s Beefy Branding Comeback was a Success

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

Arby's recently revamped exterior | Arby's

Arby's recently revamped exterior | Arby's

In order to survive in today’s ever so competitive market, a brand has to adapt and evolve with its customer-base.

With the emergence of fast casual, farm-to-table, local sourcing, etc– consumers have higher expectations when it comes to their dining experience.

Not to mention, the digital realm has created a loud world for consumers to live in. They are constantly being bombarded with advertising on social media, TV, and on their favorite websites, blogs and apps.

Every restaurant brand is trying to catch the attention of the elusive, distracted consumer and to do so, restaurant marketers have to think outside the box.

But developing a cohesive marketing message is easier said than done. Sometimes a brand doesn’t find the right marketing recipe right away.

A chain that initially struggled with a brand revamp was the quick-serve restaurant, Arby’s. Although the chain had a slow start, it eventually made an impressive comeback.

Let’s take a closer look at how the brand managed to bounce back and rise above its slumping sales.

A Rocky Start

Arby’s sales were consistently slipping starting in 2010. In October 2012, the brand started a rebranding process with a modernized logo, the new tagline “Slicing Up Freshness” and a revamped website. Unfortunately, this brand refresh was not well-received. The logo, in particular, got negative criticisms for being “forced” and looking “incomplete.” In a poll with 3,600 participants by the brand, 93% said they disliked the updated logo.

A year later, Arby’s released another new logo while hiring both a new CEO and CMO. They also announced that they were on the lookout for a new creative agency. The 2013 logo was a refurbished version of a past fan-favorite logo.

The 2012 logo failure was particularly expensive. At that time, Arby’s was spending $125 million a year on media. All advertising had to be quickly changed to represent the new logo. It was an especially costly endeavor to replace all of the merchandising materials twice in two years.

2014: “We Have the Meats” and Fast-Crafted

The brand heard its customers’ complaints loud and clear in 2012 and 2013 and made some executive decisions. As we mentioned, they fired their creative agency and hired Rob Lynch as the new CMO and brand president and Paul Brown as the new CEO. Formerly the VP of Brand Marketing at Taco Bell, Lynch hit the ground running. It was time for the brand to promote its Unique Selling Proposition and the restaurant had lost sight of what that was.

Lynch’s first order of business was an agency review. Soon after, Fallon became the brand’s new agency. "We felt like they were going to be our partners in building something special,” said Lynch about Fallon to Adweek.

And something special is what they built. Together they launched the “We Have the Meats” campaign. The focus was on the core of the brand– it’s meat. Then they classified the brand in its own restaurant category, Fast-Crafted, a segment above fast food with a focus on high quality ingredients.

"I had to take a stark stance and really sell what I sell and say what I want to say and break away from a lot of the happy-people-running-along-with-sandwiches-in-their-hands kind of advertising," said Lynch to Adweek.

The restaurant changed its approach to advertising and social media. The new marketing campaign was fearless, fun and anything but campy or uptight. The brand shows time and time again that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

The rebrand was introduced with a brilliant promotion around Jon Stewart’s retirement from hosting Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. Stewart had been the brand’s frenemy for years as he continuously mocked the brand with punchlines like “Arby’s: technically it’s food” and “Arby’s: a dare for your colon.”

Instead of silently rejoicing that Stewart would no longer be on the air to insult the restaurant, Arby’s made a special video thanking Stewart for being a friend. The criticisms by Stewart were edited together, while the Golden Girls’ theme song “Thank You For Being A Friend” played in the background. The video ends with “Not sure why, but we’ll miss you.”

Arby’s had previously taken a similar approach to responding to Stewart’s mockery. The chain dedicated a sandwich on its secret menu called the Daily Deli to Stewart and would send The Daily Show crew free lunches. Ultimately, the brand got the last laugh with the hilarious goodbye to Mr. Stewart.

Incorporating Current Events and Trends

The brand cleverly incorporates current events and trends that are appealing to their customer-base on their social channels. Specifically, Arby’s uses social to foster organic social engagements by pairing their menu items with pop culture or current event references in photo or short animated video posts. These share-worthy images to get ton of engagement. It’s not uncommon for its Facebook posts to get 40k+ shares and 200K+ likes.

Although Arby’s has over 3,300 stores, their marketing budget is limited.  “We’re a big brand but we’re a lot smaller when it comes to marketing spend,” said Paul Brown, Arby’s CEO to Fortune. “We have to play the game differently.”

So, how does the brand maintain a strong presence on social?  “We've done that through creating engagement with our customers where the brand can fit into cultural events. We jump in where we think we have a right to jump in. We don't push content and ads through our social media channels. We listen," said Lynch to Adweek.  

An example of a successful interaction is when Arby’s tweeted at the rapper and producer, Pharrell Williams saying “can we have our hat back?” when he wore a hat to the 2014 Grammy’s that looked rather similar to the chain’s logo. That one tweet went viral with almost 80,000 retweets. 6,000 new Arby’s followers were recruited from that one engagement.

Another example, is how Arby’s recently incorporated the Pokemon Go trend into a post by featuring the symbol of Team Valor, claiming its allegiance to the red team in the game.

More than Just the Message

Arby's new interior | Arby's

Arby's new interior | Arby's

Arby’s marketing message wasn’t the only thing to be revamped. In 2015, 200 stores were redesigned with a more polished and stylish atmosphere with natural wood elements and modern lighting. The cozy interior of the store’s mimic that of a fast-casual more so than a quick-serve. The rest of the stores will be revamped as well within the next few years.

This new fearless messaging paired with a sexier interior had a major impact on the quick-serve brand’s sales. The same-store sales grew by 5.7% in 2014, then by 8.1 % in 2015. This only continued in the first quarter of 2016, with a 5.8 % same-store growth rate. This is quite a different story than the sales reports in 2010.

“Last year, we had a relentless drive to instill innovation in every aspect of what we do,” said Brown in press release from February 2015. “From the marketing, to the customer experience; from bold, new restaurant designs to our Fast Crafted menu offering – our efforts are paying off. We’ve unlocked a powerful recipe for success that we’ll extend into 2015 and beyond as we work collaboratively with franchisees to realize the full potential of the Arby’s brand.”

This goes to show that the right marketing recipe can make a failing brand into a winning one.