If you've ever wondered why Burger King, McDonald's and KFC consistently "bring back" shelved menu items (respectively, Chicken Fries, McRib/Shamrock Shake, the Double Down "sandwich") for a limited time, the key reason is simple: Quick-serve restaurants (QSRs) need to give Joe Consumer—who tires of the same old menu items all the time—a buzzy/fun reason to start patronizing their locations again.
Marketing the return of such menu items via social media is practically a no-brainer. For instance, since launching #chickenfriesareback on Monday, Burger King has averaged 380 tweets a minute while garnering 150,000 total social media mentions in the campaign's first 72 hours, according to Eric Hirschhorn, CMO of the Miami-Dade County, Fla.-based company.
"Over time, people forget what it is you have in the restaurant," he said, explaining the "bring back" strategy employed by so many QSRs. "So you bring things back for a period of time, and then you make business decisions based on that."
A Social Media State of Mind
And you load up on social—especially if you are Hirschhorn. After all, #chickenfriesareback was born thanks to "chicken fries" getting between about 600 and 1,000 social mentions on Facebook and Twitter during January, per the marketing chief. A BuzzFeed listicle that month helped generate such chatter, since BK's chicken fries appeared alongside other "extinct" foods, such as lime-flavored Skittles, Planters Cheez Balls, etc. There was even a Change.org petition to bring back the fried poultry sticks. So Burger King rebooted the item this week, while launching Tumblr and Snapchat accounts to add to their social accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine. (Check out one of the brand's Vines below.)
Hirschhorn characterized the initiative as the brand's most social ever. Damon Ragusa, CEO of software marketer ThinkVine, commended the viral strategy.
"Instead of spending large paid media dollars, you let consumers know the product is coming at the outlet," Ragusa said. "Loyalists see that and spread through social media to get the same, if not more, impressions … and for a fraction of the cost."
BK is repurposing its original chicken fries TV spot created by Crispin Porter & Bogusky nine years ago, which will air exclusively on Thursdays, or "Throwback Thursdays," playing on the meme when folks put up old photos on social media pages. The single tweak in the commercial entails a "#TBT" in the lower right corner of the screen. The limited-time offer is being primarily pushed via digital advertising and marketing.
"This is a different approach for us," Hirschhorn said. "Historically, when we've promoted a product, we'd take a traditional approach with a several-week campaign with TV, limited digital/social support and obviously some in-store merchandising. But since the origins of [#chickenfriesareback] are in the digital world, we wanted to keep it there."
Reacting to Robin Williams' Death in Real Time
It turned out to be an eventful week for the CMO and his team—particularly on Monday evening, when they were caught in the middle of a Hollywood tragedy. They were featured as Twitter's Promoted Trend, which costs roughly $200,000 for one day. But when news broke that popular comedic actor Robin Williams had died, shortly after 7 p.m. ET, hashtags such as #RIPRobinWilliams and #Mork became national trends. Burger King quickly pulled the ad.
"We felt like it was the right thing to do," Hirschhorn said. "We have our social media dashboards open all day, every day. We make our decisions in real-time. … We picked up our phone. We called our agency, we called Twitter, and it was done."
Additionally, he said that the #chickenfriesareback endeavor represents a cultural veer at BK toward digital. He pointed to hiring Adam Gagliardo as director of digital marketing and social media one year ago, pulling him away from L'Oréal USA.
"There's been a dramatic shift from the top of the organization down," Hirschhorn said. "There's been a behavioral change here over the last 12 to 18 months. We put a new team in place that Adam is leading. We have a new agency in Code and Theory. And as a result, I think we've seen an incredible impact on our business."