Arby’s pins recent success to ‘being authentic to a fault’ and ‘not being afraid to upset people’

Chief marketing officer of Arby’s Robert Lynch has spearheaded a number of unorthodox advertising campaigns over the past year that have helped the company grow at a time when the fast-food industry is struggling to attract consumers.

By “being authentic to a fault,” creating ads that are “so stupid they’re awesome,” and “not being afraid to upset some people,” Lynch told attendees at the ANA Masters of Marketing conference in Orlando that Arby’s marketing efforts have not only helped improve its engagement with consumers on social media but have also led to increased sales for a brand that not too long ago was one of the worst-performing companies in the fast-food category.

The chain took a hit during the recession and was doing so poorly that Lynch said it had lost $150,000 per restaurant in sales over a four-year period. He attributed the chain’s decline in part due to its poor branding efforts, which he described as a spattering of different logos, taglines and agencies that did nothing to unify the brand.

“Arby’s wasn’t standing for anything,” he said. When he joined Arby’s about two years ago, he said he was challenged with figuring out what made Arby’s special and how to bring the brand out of the “land of ambiguity and mediocrity.”

One issue the brand faced at the time was the fact the chain’s signature roast beef sandwiches were the only thing that came to mind for many people when they thought of Arby’s even though it offers eight different meat options. Lynch jokingly said Arby’s was a pimple on the fast-food landscape, since roast beef pales in comparison to other savory options like burgers, pizza, and chicken.

To change this, the company launched its quirky ‘We Have The Meats’ campaign that humorously showcases all of the different options it offers, including angus steak, smoked brisket, and roast turkey.

One spot promoting its brown sugar bacon shows viewers footage of sizzling bacon, then tells vegetarians that they can call the Arby’s Vegetarian Support Hotline if they are feeling tempted by the images.

Lynch said while he knew a lot of people wouldn’t like the ad and might consider it offensive, he thought Arby’s customers would love it.

“Don’t be afraid to upset some people,” he told marketers during his speech. “Have some courage to make choices.”

He also said he was a big believer in being authentic to a fault when it came to connecting with consumers. He described a situation that arose last year when he realized that Arby’s was contractually obligated to include its partner Pepsi in two commercials per year, but by December of last year the soda had only been featured in one.

Rather than figuring out a last-minute way to include Pepsi in its existing advertising, Arby’s took a different approach and created a cheeky commercial that simply featured a glass of Pepsi while a voiceover said “Arby’s has an agreement to feature their good friend Pepsi in two commercials a year. Well, Arby’s messed up and forgot about the second commercial. So here it is.”

And while The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart relentlessly mocked the brand for years, Lynch said Arby’s chose to take control of the situation and play along instead of letting the conversation control them. The company created a goodbye ad for Stewart when he left the show earlier this year and jokingly offered him a job on Twitter, which Lynch said resulted in 10,000 Arby’s mentions on the platform.

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