What is in this article?:
- Restaurants plan marketing moves around the election
- Shifting spending
Restaurant operators such as Taco Bell adjusted marketing strategies to coordinate with the election and avoid costly advertising expenses
Timing was an important variable for restaurants during this election cycle, as well, as many brands planned advertising
pushes or new-product launches for times when they would not compete with electoral campaigns.
The election partly caused traffic at the nearly 850 Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants in the United States to fall about 2 percent in October, officials for the Minneapolis-based brand said during its third-quarter earnings call. The chain’s inability to keep pace with October 2011’s TV advertising lessened the traffic benefit Buffalo Wild Wings had experienced due to more Thursday-night NFL games drawing in customers.
“This is an election year, so we were proactive,” chief financial officer Mary Twinem said. “We have media — obviously you see it in football [broadcasts]
in October — but … we backweighted [marketing spending] because of the election for November and December.”
Steve Wiborg, president of Burger King North America, said during the Miami-based brand’s third-quarter earnings call that its 2012 marketing calendar was “budgeted and decided more than a year ago” in order to launch the chain’s new menu before ad space got too scarce and expensive during the election and the Summer Olympics.
Burger King’s overhauled menu debuted in April with a series of celebrity-driven commercials, while a limited-time barbecue menu ran during the summer. Both helped drive a 1.6-percent same-store-sales increase and positive traffic in the United States and Canada for the Sept. 30-ended third quarter, Wiborg said.
“This was all in our plan in the beginning and why you saw us choose the second quarter [for] our launch of a lot of these platforms with the media deals we received then,” he said. “We’re right on target for our plan, and we’ll close out the fourth quarter exactly on our target and plan for our marketing spend.”
Electing to experiment
The Cheesecake Factory also shifted its marketing spending this year, but from the first half of the year to its Oct. 2-ended third
quarter, which would have coincided with both parties’ national conventions, when the campaigns’ media onslaught began in earnest. Chief financial officer Doug Benn said overall marketing spending would remain the same 0.5 percent of sales for fiscal 2012, but the third-quarter shift allowed Calabasas Hills, Calif.-based Cheesecake Factory to test a branding campaign with billboards and radio.
The chain’s third-quarter same-store sales rose 2.5 percent, which included a 1.5-percent gain in traffic. Its 173 restaurants
are spread out nationwide, with concentrations in many markets without competitive presidential or congressional races, like California and Texas. The brand does not advertise on TV, so Cheesecake Factory did not experience the swing-state blues many chains endured this election cycle.
However, Benn noted during the third-quarter earnings call that the presidential debates and election night, when people are either voting or watching the returns on TV, likely would pressurefourth-quarter traffic slightly.
Similarly, Culver’s spent the same amount on marketing during the election cycle as it did last year, Stidham said, but the chain used its exile from the airwaves to bolster local-store marketing with increased print ads, social media and freestanding inserts and to experiment with new tactics.
“We bought digital network TV in our tier-one markets, really just testing to see a lift,” Stidham said. “We learned quick it did not draw enough just on its own, and we don’t envision digital being a stand-alone platform for us, but it could be important as a supplemental [tactic].”
The chain went back on the air Nov. 12 to reprise its “Welcome to Delicious” TV campaign, leading with a commercial starring founder and chief executive Craig Culver talking to the brand’s beef supplier. Stidham added that Culver’s same-store sales were positive in September and October and are trending positive in November, as well, despite going dark for several weeks.
“We’re still having a great year,” he said. “We think we widened our base with ‘Welcome to Delicious,’ and that’s why we continue to grow.”
An important lesson restaurant marketers can take away from the campaign is that having a lasting, relevant brand message that keeps people talking about a chain — increasingly through social media — can help offset an absence from TV or radio, said Barkley’s Fromm.
He said other restaurants can prosper, as Culver’s did, during a broadcast blackout if they focus on “content excellence” rather than just creative excellence