“It’s really hard to get bears to do what you want them to do in the Chicago area,” Janet Barker-Evans says with a laugh. Clearly, this wasn’t your average day at Cracker Barrel, a national chain that first debuted in 1969.
That was precisely the goal, explains Barker-Evans, the executive creative director at global marketing company Epsilon. For a brand with this much history, it helps to stray from the traditional path once in a while. The Epsilon team took that advice literally.
In its first partnership with Cracker Barrel, Epsilon was tasked with promoting the Campfire Meals limited-time offer, which ends August 14. The meals are slow-cooked and served in foil with vegetables to remind guests of nostalgic nights by the fire. John Immesoete, Epsilon’s chief creative officer, says they took inventory of the brand’s base before identifying some creative whitespace. “We saw an opportunity to grow their brand. And we saw some stuff that other agencies hadn’t seen,” he notes.
The highlighter went straight through a rather recognizable keyword: Millennials. “One big numbers crunch that leads to the sweet spot,” Immesoete says of the process.
They targeted the generational pool through message and medium, and that’s where bears joined the picture. Barker-Evans says Epsilon believed humor could lure in a younger audience. Thus, “The Worst Camper in the World” series was hatched.
Bears love the smell of bacon. A nest of bees are nature’s sound machine. Approach bear cubs to show a sign of respect. Grab one of those always-useful multi-tools if you plan to spend any time in the woods.
These tidbits of “advice” were filmed in a series of videos that Cracker Barrel released on its YouTube channel to coincide with the offer, which was last on the menu two years ago. “The targeted content portion of it is really key,” Barker-Evans says. “Our cell phones are like our dashboards for life, right? And Millennials, more than anybody, we turn to the phone for inspiration for where to go, what movie to see, how to get where we’re going, and even where to eat. This is something we consult all the time. And we know we’re all always on it.”
They shot the videos against a green screen since, as Barker-Evans noted earlier, working with real bears in Chicago would have presented a few issues.
They produced the content in a form that could present on TV, but the plan was always to feature it on social platforms. In addition to being far more cost effective, Epsilon planned to take advantage of the sharing and feedback capabilities of digital content.
“We can get it in their feed and on their phone, right at the precise moment to the right person, and even geo locate when you’re near one of our stores,” she says. “That really helps us intersect that right person and introduce them to the campfire meals, which are really fun.”
Immesoete says the writers understood Cracker Barrel’s food didn’t really need a cheerleader given its deep fanbase. Instead, it was about creating something unique that appealed to a new generation of possible customers.
“I think it’s really important to remember that Millennials watch more video content on their phone than they do on any TV,” Barker-Evans adds.
“We really specifically target people: What are the areas that you’re not seeing that we think we can grow your brand?” Immesoete continues. “That’s what they liked. We saw something that could help them with their metrics by doing something that they hadn’t done before.”
Epsilon was able to look at the behaviors of Cracker Barrel’s target markets, create custom audience profiles, and then determine how and where to target their content to drive traffic. They use location intelligence for the online content, such as past victors, visitors of competitive locations, and then lean on age groups for audience information. Epsilon owns Conversant, an online adverting company that specializes in connecting brands to consumers.
Using digital- and email-based materials also enabled Epsilon to track metrics in real time. Barker-Evans says the numbers exceeded all projected benchmarks, from engagement to view time, and more. “We’ve been really, really pleased,” she says.
Crafting a project for a limited-time added another wrinkle. Barker-Evans says the sense of urgency extended to both sides. “That’s always what consumers look for. People want that limited time,” she says. “They want something special. People are looking to be inspired for new things they want to try. That’s kind of the beauty of limited time. It gives you something to look forward to and something you want to see while it’s there and try it while it’s there.”
That limited window moved the process along quickly. The filming was done in just two days. Start to finish, from brainstorming to sound editing, the project needed about four weeks, she reports.
As technology continues to evolve, Barker-Evans believes the ability to reach consumers will grow as well. “We’re excited to use all the things we know about how people respond to humor and advertising and combine them with our tools and targeting and use it on a device as intimate as mobile with the audience that we’re trying to reach,” she says. “It’s been a great win and it’s all part of a very exciting future.”
By Danny Klein