Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar found itself in a tough situation last week when a franchisee group’s multiplatform digital ad campaign ran at cross-purposes with corporate branding plans.
The tongue-in-cheek “Life Is Better Shared” campaign, created for Lexingington, Ky.-based franchisee group Thomas & King, drew on Applebee’s corporate’s “Girls’ Night Out” slogan. Internet comments called the campaign everything from “condescending” to “fantastic” for its use of YouTube video pseudo tutorials, a Tumblr page, and references to Twitter and Pinterest.
But Applebee’s corporate was quick to clarify that the work was not part of its systemwide branding. “The online campaign was produced independently by one of our franchisees and its local agency, and we are currently working with them to revise the work to reflect our brand standards and voice,” Applebee’s spokeswoman Nancy Mays said in a statement.
She added that Applebee’s corporate hired Boulder, Colo.-based Crispin Porter + Bogusky in March and said the agency is developing a new campaign that "will launch later this summer and will be an exciting, fresh approach" for the brand.
Applebee’s saw a market for female parties after one of their Facebook Fan Page polls found that only 9 percent of female respondents got together weekly with friends, but 34 percent indicated that they wanted to meet up. So from May through June 5, Applebee’s systemwide had offered an option on its Facebook Fan page that allowed women to send a personalized invitation to friends for a "Girls’ Night Out" restaurant gathering.
Thomas & King worked with Lexington, Ky.-based Cornett Integrated Marketing Solutions to expand on the corporate “Girls’ Night Out” theme with a multichannel ad campaign. The “Life Is Better Shared” campaign featured a branded Tumblr page and a YouTube Channel with videos featuring the “Girls’ Night Out Goddess.” The messaging offered such snark as “Tweet responsibly. Re-tweet responsibly. Drink responsibly. Drive responsibly,” and took a few jabs at the use of the popular social media site Pinterest, urging women to interact more offline — preferably at Applebee’s.
Cornett offered a statement acknowledging that the reviews of the campaign were mixed — from “brilliant” on down, it said — but that it was meant in good fun.
“Applebee’s loves social media and fully embraces it,” the Cornett statement said. “We’re using YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Tumblr to share our message and to interact with women. We totally embrace all things social media. Our message is simple: ‘Life Is Better Shared,’ preferably face-to-face with your girlfriends at Applebee’s. We all know we spend a lot of time online. Our message is about balance.”
Thomas & King franchises 88 Applebee's restaurants and six Carino’s Italian Grill restaurants in Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Pennsylvania.