Arby’s Transforms Its Brand

Last week, Rich Lobel and I had the pleasure of attending the ANA Masters of Marketing conference in Orlando, Florida. It was a solid conference this year with some great speakers and thought -provoking panels.

One marketer in particular really grabbed my attention with a talk about something near and dear to my heart: meat. The speaker was Rob Lynch, Chief Marketing Officer of Arby’s.

Lynch was honest about the fact that Arby’s had lost some of its mojo in recent years. “Our customers were not loving Arby’s for a very long time,” he said. The problem Arby’s faced was that customers didn’t really know what the brand stood for.

After some soul-searching the marketing team realized there was one undeniable thing at the core of Arby’s: meat.

So fourteen months ago the company debuted a series of new spots called “We Have The Meats.” Voiced by actor Ving Rhames, the spots emphasized what customers had long known but perhaps forgotten. When you have a powerful hunger for meat, it’s hard to beat Arby’s. Consumers immediately responded. Brand perception began to shift and sales shot up.

For many people, Arby’s was off the pop cultural radar until the 2014 Grammys, when the brand perfectly seized a real time marketing opportunity. Rapper and producer Pharrell Williams wore a hat that looked remarkably similar to the Arby’s logo.

They company tweeted this.

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That tweet became the talk of the advertising world, garnering thousands of retweets and generating an additional 6,000 followers for the brand.

Being young, fun and flexible soon became a core part of what Arby’s was all about. When Jon Stewart made fun of the company, they didn’t respond like old school stuffed shirts. They embraced it.

Clearly, Stewart was going at the company hard. How would you react to this if you managed the Arby’s brand?

“We had a decision to make,” Lynch said. “We were either going to call Mr. Stewart and say ‘Please refrain from using our brand that way,’ or something else. We decided to send his whole crew lunch.”

I was impressed all around. Arby’s faced very really challenges a few years ago. But the team didn’t back down. They seized the moment, took the reins and changed hearts and minds. And that’s what great marketing is all about.