Houlihan’s customers are the voice of the chain’s new marketing campaign.

‘Houlifans’ are using Twitter to declare their love of the 85-unit casual dining brand, and the company is then using the comments blown up into giant billboards, reprinted on table tents, and on its website.

“It was about leveraging the consumer chatter that was already out there and creating a customer endorsement campaign,” says Jen Gulvik, vice president of marketing.

Customer endorsements, she says, “are the No. 1 way consumers learn of and choose restaurants—word of mouth from friends, family, and associates.”

Tweets include:

  • “@Houlihan’s Epic Long Island Iced Teas. Nuff said.”
  • “Fish tacos @Houlihan’s are the bomb. Best I’ve ever had.”
  • “@Houlihan’s drinks to die for. But their food … So cheapies!”

Since some states don’t allow direct promotions of happy hour, the chain focused on more general messaging.

The campaign is intended to promote Houlihan’s happy hour, explains Gulvik. It’s been voted the best happy hour in a number of markets, she adds, but consumers might not think of the restaurants first when considering happy hours.

"Happy hour guests by nature are socialites and connectors—it’s not surprising that social media would be the primary platform for making plans or posting about happy hour.”

The chain now has billboards in four cities (Pittsburgh, San Antonio, Texas, St. Louis and Chicago), as well as table tents in many of its restaurants. Each table tent features a different tweet. “We’ve had diners writing to the endorsers, sometimes even to rib them,” Gulvik says. “So it connects the customers to each other, too.”

Twitter lends itself perfectly to a campaign like this, Gulvik says, whereas other, more wordy online message boards don’t.

Houlihan’s is also using the awards its happy hour has received in its marketing, but the Twitter endorsements are even more powerful, says Gulvik, because it’s a direct endorsement from a customer, a real person. “We chose the funniest lines or those that had the most ringing endorsement.”

She adds that “there has been a lot of further word-of-mouth as well because we are engaging directly with customers, or our ‘Houlifans’ and it perpetuates further chatter and word-of-mouth.”

A secondary benefit of the program is that it’s led to a large increase in Houlihan’s Twitter following. When the marketing campaign began on October 1, the chain had 1,800 followers. Five weeks later it now has almost 2,500.

Houlihan’s chose its five favorite tweets for the campaign, then sought approval from the people who had written them, which wasn’t difficult, according to Gulvik.

“Everyone we asked was flattered and thrilled. It was 15 minutes of fame for them. Everyone has been really happy with it, great to work with, and OK for us to use their Twitter image and their handle.”

A campaign such as this is very low-cost on the production side, Gulvik says. “The creative is pretty simple and there’s not a lot of production value in it and the content is already out there for you.”

The company will soon start using more tweets, and Gulvik says the same strategy could be used for other promotions in the future.

By Amanda Baltazar

Industry News, Marketing & Promotions, Houlihan's