The Best Restaurant Marketing Campaigns 2019
In the United States alone, there are more than a million restaurants, with more coming every day. As an operator, that’s a lot of competition, but one that you can try and offset through effective marketing campaigns. Those campaigns come in many shapes and sizes, from the kind of lousy marketing that hurts the business to the sort that engages the public’s attention. This year, we’re celebrating the cream of the crop by looking back at the best restaurant marketing campaigns of 2019 to see what worked to try and plan for continued success next year.
Best of Social Media Engagement
There are a lot of reasons for your restaurant to use social media. For starters, approximately half of the global population utilizes social media in some way or another, which is an incredible market to tap into. And this year, quite a few international chains found a way to use existing and emerging platforms to build interest and community in their brand.
Jimmy John’s Snapchallenge
This Autumn, Jimmy John’s upped their marketing game by working with social media giant SnapChat on an augmented reality game. The sandwich company developed a game using SnapChat filters in a Pokemon meets cold cuts sandwich with Lil Jon as the host. The idea was simple: catch as many sandwiches falling through the air into your “mouth” as possible. Players were encouraged to share images of their gameplay on their platform, which helped to boost the overall signal of the campaign.
Our Takeaway: People love to take selfies, and they love silliness.
Chipotle’s Timely Tik Tok Game
Like Jimmy John’s, Chipotle developed their own viral video competition, albeit one that promised to deliver a year’s worth of free burritos to the winner. Using the relatively new social media platform TikTok, Chipotle dared players to participate in their #GuacDance Challenge dressed as burritos and dancing in short viral clips to celebrate National Avocado Day. The challenge was a smash hit with millions of contributions in six days.
Our Takeaway: Give your guests a prize, and they’re more likely to respond.
I’d Buy That For A Dollar: KFC Employs Robocop
The story of Kentucky Fried Chicken is steeped in the mythos of founder Colonel Sanders, who sold his company and likeness to what is now Yum Brands in 1964. The company kept Sanders on as an ambassador to their food, where he built up his status as a pop-culture icon, releasing records, appearing in comic books, and traveling the world to spread the good word of fried chicken.
Throughout their history, the company has used his image, including cartoons and radio ads that mimicked his southern affectations. In 2015, they built on that tradition by hiring a rotating cast of actors from Jim Gaffigan to Reba McEntire as part of their campaign. Early this year, they brought out their most audacious Colonel by partnering with MGM to feature Robocop in the role. The ad campaign featured the same dark satire from the original series and went viral almost as it launched.
Our Takeaway: “Go big or go home” can pay off in the long run. Don’t be afraid to try new things.
Where’s the Beef? Fast Foods’ Chicken Wars
When Popeye’s released their chicken sandwich earlier this year, they (perhaps) unwittingly threw down the gauntlet to Chik-Fil-A. The two engaged in some mild back and forth on social media, until the wild card social media team at Wendy’s decided to enter the fray tweeting, “Y’all out here fighting about which of these fools has the second best (sic) chicken sandwich.”
This tweet kicked off a good-spirited beef between fast food outlets trying their best to prop up their chicken sandwich. In the wake of the chicken wars, Popeye’s sold out of their sandwich, inadvertently introducing scarcity into their marketing.
Our Takeaway: Creating a friendly rivalry can pay off in a big way.
Thanos’ Endgame: Local Mexican Food
It’s easy to forget how much work goes on behind the scenes of any successful marketing campaign. Marketing teams often invest time and money meticulously grooming every aspect of every campaign. Marketers toil over their work carefully weighing words, fonts, and images all designed to perfectly capture attention and deliver their chosen message. Then there’s this video from the Takesabroso Taqueria in Mexico City wherein Thanos twerks his support of some incredible enchiladas.While the video looks like it was made for $20, it took the internet by storm this August.
The video features a spoiler-heavy scene from Avengers: Endgame, the highest-grossing film of 2019, that gives all the power of the infinity gems. And that man does what we would all do: thwart Thanos’ evil plan by making the most righteous tacos in all of space-time. The ad is not only highly illegal, but immediately took the internet by storm for how ridiculous it was, and rightfully so: it’s short, punchy, and goofy.
Our Takeaway: Definitely don’t steal from Disney, because that will not go the way you think. Nostalgia works, especially if you keep it light-hearted.
McDonald’s & Chill
Whether it’s for financial or social reasons, staying in is an increasingly popular option, and rightfully so. There are a lot of off-premise dining options, so you can have your proverbial cake and eat it too. McDonald’s saw an opportunity here to cater to that audience with their loungewear offer in September. The McDelivery Loungewear Set offered by McDonald’s in Singapore provided fans of the brand dinner and something to snuggle in for the low price of 24.99.
McDonald’s picked up what the cool kids were putting down and started a campaign that involved getting free loungewear so that people could chill. Which honestly, is the de facto state after ingesting that much grease. It was a hit though, because people like branded clothing lines, as much as they like to “Netflix and Chill.” “Catch you on the flippity flop,” say the cool McMarketers.
The one-day campaign worked maybe a little too well, shutting down the app from so much traffic. McDonald’s was quick to respond and fixed the app to satisfy customer demand.
Our Takeaway: Scarcity marketing works!
Taco Bell Vs. Taco Tuesday
From their Yo Quiero chihuahua to incurring the wrath of country music stars, Taco Bell has a long history of successful advertising campaigns. Their most recent success thinking outside the bun was their challenge to eliminate the threat of Taco Tuesday once and for all. Their logic? Why should you celebrate tacos on just one day of the week?
Their Taco ReBELLion gave guests discounts on their food while poking fun at social trends. Taco Bell wants you to enjoy tacos (and anything else they sell) any day of the week, instead of making it a special occasion.
Our Takeaway: Eat tacos every day. More importantly, no matter what you serve, don’t let your food become the punchline unless you wrote the joke yourself.
Successful marketing is an ever-moving target, so don’t be afraid to try new things. A solid marketing strategy doesn’t have to become a meme or go viral, as consistency is equally valuable in your branding efforts. For smaller restaurants, consider scheduling tools for posts so that you aren’t tied to your social media. Keep it simple by creating content or marketing that engages with your target audience, whether that’s customers or the people around you. Gauge what works and what doesn’t by setting realistic parameters for success, and move from there.
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About the Author
Syd was a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot.