THE GREATEST FISHING TALE EVER TOLD.
There are challenger brands, challenged brands and those that are both. And let's not kid ourselves - as professional advertisers, we love the challenge. When you work on an account that dominates its category, the tendency with both agency and client is to be extremely risk-averse, lest you risk its place atop the heap. But when you're scrambling for both eighth place and another year in business, the assumption is that safe will take you anywhere but up.
So when I was first given the opportunity to help reposition venerable American fast-fish giant Long John Silver's, I went to one for the first time in 30 years. And frankly, not much had changed. Not the design, the menu... well, the prices had certainly shot up. But I couldn't help but notice that the diners all had the decided pat and patter of true die-hard loyalists. And that's good - if you have a core to radiate outward from, you've got something to at least start with.
Long John Silver's had just broken away from parent company Yum! Brands by an independent group of area businessmen and franchisees. On the heels of their previous ownership's brand campaign, showing restaurants they never built with logos you never saw offering a brand experience they certainly did not deliver, my core team strategized late into many nights, trying to mill the perfect silver bullet - one that celebrated the core fans and menu in a way that made it attractive to the low-to-no awareness crowd.
After a few rounds of boards to inform what it is they did not want, we delivered their "I'm Lovin' It" - a celebration of all the things they were, still are, and would probably never change - already made famous in the 50's anthem, "Chantilly Lace": "That's What I Like." Save for the headache of procuring synchronization rights to a piece of music owned by about fifty different people, it was perfect - as declarative as it was ambiguous. And even if you never heard that song the whole way through, you knew that singout - the perfect example of leveraging borrowed equity.
Working closely with GO! Film and director team The Gentlemen, we transformed an actual Chicago Long John Silver's restaurant into our set to film the first four spots in Fall, 2012. We wanted to portray our customers as perhaps a bit odd, but decidedly likeable. The dad who's replaced the Father & Son fishing trip with just going out to eat...
Or the office cat-lady archetype who'll befriend just about anyone to take advantage of a bring-a-friend offer... (Oh, and hey, there's Alex from the CARFAX spots again! Told you he was good...)
Or the well-intentioned but goofball patriarch who just can't stop getting additional meals at a discount. (He should probably read the legal type at the bottom.)
Meanwhile, we launched a completely revamped website and aggressively began using the reach of Facebook to push fan engagement with the brand's new look, new offers and new menu items.
For their "2-For-$10" promotion, we exploited a then-loophole in Facebook's news feed, one that they mysteriously closed on us with a week left in the window. By creating a Facebook app that would allow you to select friends from your list to invite to lunch - allowing us to post the invitation on their wall for you (but on your behalf), the user's activity would not only be broadcast to your circle, but theirs - giving a comparatively small (but quickly growing) social media brand over 3 million impressions in just under six weeks. We added 40% to our fanbase, all by writing a few lines of code and giving away a few free soft drinks.
Heading into the Lenten holiday the following year, Long John Silver's wanted to take a none-too-subtle dig at other QSR restaurants pushing their "Denomination By Obligation" fish sandwich specials - seizing the opportunity to underscore the difference between real seafood and that bread-bedecked square that conjures memories of elementary school cafeterias and the last time you ever ate at a hospital. Though I pushed hard for "The Lonely Man" theme from "The Incredible Hulk"'s end credits, we instead decided to write a more descriptive narrative of the protagonist's mindset... the guy who got a bummer of a deal at the restaurant down the block... (This is far from the only time I wrote the lyrics to a jingle while driving. It's a gift. It's a curse.)
Lent is tricky - because well, even though it's a holiday for a majority stakeholder religion, it's still a religion and therefore, potentially thorny. Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses and Atheists eat fish too, you know. So for social media, we positioned a 40-day initiative called "40 Days. 40 Ways To Say 'That's What I Like'". A not-very-subtle-but-subtle-enough tap on the side of our nose to signal our relevance to the holiday. I mean, we called it "Fishmas" around the agency. Each day we updated our "countdown avatars" and pushed a new deal, nugget of trivia or cool little aside about the brand. Engagement and likes/shares soared.
We closed the year with the brand's sales enjoying a 6.5% increase and an ad campaign with 65% unaided recall. And though the brand would pivot their brand's campaign shortly thereafter, opting instead to go back to the comfy old slippers of a more direct and retail approach, the work we put on the board was smart, incisive, strategic and - most importantly - effective.