Do “Real People” Ad Campaigns Work?

YouGov BrandIndex

On July 25, Red Lobster launched its “Sea Food Differently” ad campaign, featuring an Alaskan fisherman, a chef, and one of the restaurant’s menu artists. The purpose was to let viewers see the men and women behind the scenes of the restaurant, but the response has been varied.

Consumers aged 18-34 loved the campaign, with the buzz score catapulting from 2.7 to 24.9, according to YouGov’s BrandIndex. Red Lobster’s biggest supporters, however, the Boomers, did not respond as well. Their buzz score fell from 35 to 31, while diners aged 35-49 decreased six points to 20.6.

“Some ad campaigns are targeted broadly and other campaigns might be targeted more specifically,” says Tim Marzilli, global managing director for BrandIndex.

Marzilli says he does not know who Red Lobster was hoping to target, but he has ideas.

With the advertisement’s focus on Alaskan crab fisherman Jon Forsythe, “It had an element in the advertising that was similar to the ‘Deadliest Catch,’ which is aired on Discover Channel, and I think that show probably has a younger audience,” Marzilli says. He thinks it is possible that younger viewers consciously or subconsciously equate the ad to the thrilling, entertaining TV show and thus transfer those opinions to Red Lobster.

If that was indeed Red Lobster’s master strategy, it worked.

“We’re simply asking people if they’ve heard positive or negative news about the brand in the past two weeks, and we’re asking them to consider advertising, news stories, and word of mouth,” Marzilli explains. “When I look at the 18-34 year olds, they’re the ones moving quite a bit, and it does coincide with this campaign launch.”

Taco Bell and Domino’s recently employed a similar marketing strategy, both to varying degrees of effectiveness. Marzilli gives Domino’s credit for making the “real people” approach successful. The pizza chain ignited a new campaign a year and a half ago to match its recipe change.

“Domino’s had something like a 12 or 13 percent increase in year-on-year store sales, and a lot of people took notice of that campaign,” Marzilli says. “Domino’s probably had close to some of their best, if not the best, sales improvement numbers of anyone in the industry in 2010.”

While Domino’s campaign was vastly successful, Taco Bell’s was a response to negative word of mouth. Following the law suit in California accusing the Mexican quick-serve of misleading advertising, Taco Bell tried to rebrand itself with real workers talking about how proud they are to work there.

For a restaurant to recover from negative word of mouth, Marzilli says the best PR strategy is to act immediately, admit the problem, and let consumers know you are fixing it. “In any sort of a crisis situation, there is a need to respond quickly, honestly, and transparently.”

It is important to remember that there is a point of diminishing returns with "real people" marketing strategies. “There’s a theory that you have to reach someone two, three, four times before they start to take notice, and the longer [the ad] runs, people start to take less notice of it,” he explains.

With Red Lobster’s campaign on the air for five months, Marzilli says a drop off in word of mouth now is expected. “A lift then a fade after three or four weeks—this is pretty typical for a campaign,” he says.

By Sonya Chudgar

News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by FSR, Food News Media, or Journalistic, Inc.


"real people' campaigns impact not only customers, but also employees -- when you have a large, dispersed employee base,  such an approach can be quite effective in galvanizing your organization and promoting your culture -- denise lee yohn

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