Long John Silver’s is calling on customers to “Think Fish” in new commercials launched this week that contrast imagery of wild-caught fish with videos of pigs wading in their own mud and cows with their movement constrained on farms.

The food quality-focused ads will appear on national cable TV and kick off a wider branding effort in 2014 that will include a new menu rollout, operations improvements and a new restaurant design prototype.

Chief marketing officer Charles St. Clair said the ads, while poking fun at how land-based proteins are sourced, are more about encouraging more seafood consumption from American restaurant patrons. Consequently, if more consumers consider fish from a restaurant, Long John Silver’s hopes to capitalize as the biggest fish in the relatively small pond of limited-service seafood chains, he said.

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“As the largest seafood restaurant in America, it was time for us to step up and take more of an advocacy position for seafood,” St. Clair said. “If anyone could talk about it in a broader sense of benefits from eating more seafood and fish, it should be us.”

Louisville, Ky.-based Long John Silver’s laid the groundwork for a relaunched branding effort through much of the past two years, St. Clair noted, including menu innovations like Dippin’ Fish Strips last month and the Ciabatta Jack Sandwich last September, an “Under 600 Calories” selection, and the elimination of trans fats systemwide.

Over the past year, Long John Silver’s and its Louisville-based agency, Creative Alliance, had been asking how to evolve from the “That’s What I Like” campaign that had been looking too much like every quick-service chain’s advertising, beholden to food shots and low price points, St. Clair said.

“Pardon the pun, but it was a sea of sameness, as everyone’s communicating in the same way and tagging their product of the day or promotion of the month at the end,” St. Clair said. “Our consumers were hungry for more information and wanted to be talked to in a different way.”

The campaign is meant to dispel misconceptions of Long John Silver’s as offering only fried, battered fish, he said. The chain is testing and plans to launch this spring a whole new menu of soups, salads and sandwiches.

The quality focus of the campaign will do more to point out that Long John Silver’s uses wild-caught Atlantic cod and Alaskan Pollock. The fisheries that supply the chain are certified as sustainable, St. Clair added, and Long John Silver’s will do more to educate consumers of that fact through its “C.A.R.E.” initiative. The brand is also a founding partner of nonprofit group the Seafood Nutrition Partnership, which promotes the benefits of increasing consumers’ consumption of fish and seafood.

While commercials will highlight those positives of seafood, they are also meant to be humorous by implying things like cattle in the beef supply increasing the amount of methane in the atmosphere through flatulence. The approach was more of Chick-fil-A’s “Eat Mor Chikn” humor than the seriousness of Chipotle Mexican Grill’s stance taken against factory farming.

“One of the important things for us was to find the right voice,” St. Clair said. “We’re taking a humorous approach, because we’re not trying to bash consumers’ choices or all land-based proteins. We’re just trying to compare them to our wild-caught fish.”

Ads will air on networks like Discovery, The Weather Channel, TNT, ESPN2 and USA Network, and Long John Silver’s will look to expand the campaign to more channels. St. Clair noted that the ads have debuted a few weeks before Ash Wednesday on March 5 — which begins Lent, a busy season for Long John Silver’s every year — but added that the campaign will be a major initiative throughout 2014.

“The timing is not inconsequential; it’s leading into our Lenten season,” he said. “But this is not just a promotional event. This is our campaign.”

Long John Silver’s franchises more than 1,250 locations in the United States and Asia.

Contact Mark Brandau at mark.brandau@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN