Friday, July 6, 2012

Applebee’s Stokes the Fire

Last month we discussed Burger King – this month, it’s Applebee’s.
Seems everyone is updating their menu these days. And why not? New is everything.

Turns out old habits don't die hard. When it comes to taking the family out to dinner, everyone wants to check out the latest joint.

Applebee’s has been “part of the neighborhood” since 1980. If there’s one thing they can teach us it’s that you don’t have to be the newest place on the block so long as you have (one of) the newest menus.

If I may get philosophical for a moment…

Managing a restaurant empire is a lot like building and maintaining a campfire.

At first, growth comes easy – adding a new location is like throwing another log on the fire – more surface area means more heat, flames, and a bigger burn.

But you can only stack on so many logs – after a brand has reached full saturation in a particular market, the only way to grow sales (and keep the fire alive) is by shaking things up.

You have to stoke a fire to keep it lit – and that’s exactly a new menu can do.

Applebee’s takes a different approach in promoting their new, affordable “Fresh Flavors of Summer.”

Make no mistake; if unveiling “new” appetizers, entrees, and desserts weren’t the ticket to jump-starting lagging sales, fast-casual dining establishments wouldn’t do it year after year.

Applebee’s latest commercial spots are part of their new “See You Tomorrow” campaign and prove equal parts new menu and up-market repositioning.

The spots are the first by new AOR Crispin Porter + Bogusky (CP+B):

Both feature “in-house culinary experts” – one presumably at an industrial-strength test kitchen and the other traipsing through a sun-soaked, remote sourcing farm.

The men get “carried away” describing the über-fresh ingredients and perfectly harmonized flavors; all until an anonymous narrator interrupts, bringing each rant back to earth.

“They just wanna know if it tastes good, that it’s a good value and it tastes good.”

We all know the style of restaurant advertising they’re mocking here – staged “straight talk” dissertations on the sacred provenance and superiority of a promoted chain’s raw materials.

Well played, Applebee’s. Relatable, cute, and significantly less cheesy than more recent ad spots.

But does Applebee’s want to have their (better quality) cake and eat it to?

Although the campaigns come across authentic, the cynic in me sees some double-talk.

So Applebee’s wants to cast itself as being part of the (growing) movement towards fresh, better quality menu fare – all the while distancing itself from the pretentious divinity all too prevalent among today’s food zealots?

Or, are they saying with Applebee’s you truly get the best of both worlds?

That is, top-notch cuisine, world-class flavor – all without the placating, “holier-than-thou” attitude and prices?

I guess it’s a whole new neighborhood! (Once Again)

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