Burger and root beer purveyor A&W Restaurants has kicked off a playful new ad campaign that pokes fun at big fast food’s recent obsession with celebrity endorsements.
Fast food chains have in recent months seemed more influencer-invested and star-seized than ever before. The strategy du jour has captivated seemingly every big fast food player – McDonald’s created the Travis Scott meal last year (only to cut ties with the rapper amid fallout from the Astroworld concert that left 10 dead) and is counting down to Christmas with its new ‘Mariah Menu.’ Meanwhile, Popeyes in October teamed with Megan Thee Stallion to launch the new Hottie Sauce, while Burger King recently rolled out a line of celebrity-inspired meals with Nelly, Chase Hudson and Larissa Machado. It’s part of a phenomenon The Drum’s US editor Kenneth Hein has dubbed ‘Snoop Dogg syndrome.’
And A&W thinks it’s overplayed. That’s why the American burger and root beer chain has debuted the new ‘Anti-Celeb Meals’ campaign, which pokes fun at competitors by juxtaposing their celebrity-studded creative against images of A&W employees reenacting the poses.
A spotlight on real employees
Developed in conjunction with Kentucky-based creative agency Coomer, the creative spotlights four A&W ‘celebs’ – everyday store employees – based in Central Kentucky locations: Raider, Hannah, Gerald and Jada. The employees are pictured enjoying their own signature meals, stylized to look like competitors’ star-studded ads.
One of the fast food chain’s largest ad campaigns in recent years, the creative will run across social and digital channels. It will also appear in-store, and individual A&W locations will be outfitted with various assets to fit their unique needs.
“Our A&W team members are incredibly dedicated and hardworking – particularly those who have been with us for a long time and have a lot of experience running our restaurants,” says Liz Bazner, the company’s senior director of marketing. “Giving them the celebrity treatment and recognizing the talents they bring to the workplace every day was not only really fun, but also rewarding.”
Attracting and retaining talent amid the ‘Great Resignation’
The initiative aims to not only boost brand awareness, but also attract and retain talent by shining a light on the people who keep A&W running. The concept was ideated by the chain’s field marketing team, which usually focuses on developing menu-related campaigns. However, after witnessing the challenges that stores were facing in recruiting and retaining talent on the ground, the team issued a request for a ‘Comprehensive Hiring Package for Franchisees’ to be made available across A&W’s 625 locations.
In response, the company received a proposal by Coomer to flip the script on the popular celebrity meal trend – and highlight real employees in order to help attract and retain talent. The new campaign includes not only multichannel marketing efforts, but also a hiring package created for A&W franchisees that includes special-edition customizable social, digital, in-store and outdoor assets. Some of these assets include 3D employee meal box signs and new uniforms for staff members – all designed to be customized to a given store location and its team.
A&W isn’t the only restaurant struggling to attract and retain employees. Amid what’s being termed the ‘Great Resignation,’ restaurants everywhere are facing hardship; research by the National Restaurant Association in July found that 75% of restaurant operators said that recruitment and employee retention were their top challenges, compared with just 8% who said so in January.
A new approach to a new need
Switching gears from product- and limited-time offer-focused marketing was no easy task, according to Bazner. “[I]t was challenging to shift gears to hiring and retention, but we knew it was crucial to get the ‘now hiring’ tools in the hands of our owners as quickly as possible to support their needs. [The campaign is] incredibly authentic and also allowed us to pull this concept together incredibly quickly using our own restaurants, products and people.”
The boots-on-the-ground feel of the campaign adds to the fast food company’s ongoing efforts to convey authenticity in its marketing; A&W uses real products in its food photography and prioritizes sharing user-generated content on social media. Tapping real A&W store employees for this campaign seemed like a natural fit within this narrative, Bazner says.
And she’s optimistic that the efforts will pay off. “[This campaign] is a pretty unique way to get people nationwide talking about the fact that our restaurants are hiring,” she says. “It’s still early days – these customizable marketing materials were just made available to our franchise system this week – but we’re going to keep a close eye on the number of restaurants that are ordering these kits to use at their own locations. We’re ... hoping that [franchise owners] see an uptick in applicants immediately.”