Applebee’s is facing some backlash, primarily from women, for its latest marketing program.
The campaign boasts a series of videos featuring a sassy Girls' Night Out Goddess who encourages ladies to turn their backs on the Internet and spend more time at a girls’ night out event, preferably at Applebee’s.
“Most brands have been trying to say, ‘Connect with us online!’ for so long, and so it was a little bit of a risk to say, ‘Connect with us offline,’” says Christy Hiler, chief strategic officer at Cornett-Integrated Marketing Solutions.
Cornett-IMS developed the videos for Thomas & King, one of Applebee’s biggest franchisors with 88 locations. The theme of the campaign is “Life is Better Shared.”
While Hiler says reactions to the campaign have been great, some angry bloggers and customers believe it patronizes women’s routines and communication choices. Social news organization Buzzfeed, for example, mocks the videos, saying they criticize women for wasting time on Facebook when they should be drinking with friends at Applebee’s.
“It’s not that we’re saying, ‘Don’t connect with us online,’ or ‘end your time online,’ because we’re not,” Hiler explains. “It’s just about balance. Saying ‘LOL’ is not the same as laughing out loud, and you need both.”
The purpose of the campaign, Hiler says, was to reach women via the exact communication channels they frequent daily. To that effect, Cornett-IMS developed different videos for Pinterest, Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube.
“Now that the videos are out there, we feel like they are going to accomplish what we wanted them to do,” Hiler says.
The idea for the controversial campaign began early last year, when Applebee’s executives determined girls’ nights out, if publicized properly, represented a strong opportunity to increase alcohol sales.
In 2011, the campaign focused on specific drinks, such as wines and martinis. “We partnered with different liquor brands to help promote it, and in the end, it really just didn’t gain enough traction to move the needle and move the bar for us,” Hiler says.
Thomas & King took a step back to reconsider the idea, which they still believed was profitable, and repackage it.
“We’re not currently part of [women’s] consideration set, and we want to be,” Hiler says. “What we hoped to do [with the videos], I think we’re doing. We just need a lot more of it, and specifically we need more in our markets to start driving the traffic in.”
By Sonya Chudgar