Barkley’s First Work for Applebee’s Asks, ‘Does This Look Like a Microwave To You?’

By Patrick Coffee 

This morning we learned that Applebee’s rebranding would be all about the steaks…wood-fired steaks, specifically.

You probably remember that the chain decided to end its three-year relationship with CP+B last November in order to “[take] the Applebee’s brand in a new direction” with “fresh thinking and new approaches” and that Barkley of Kansas City won the subsequent review.

The first work in what the client called its “largest marketing initiative to date” went live this afternoon, and it contains more than your monthly supply of red meat. The spots also make a very obvious attempt to break with the insistent rumor that most of the chain’s food is “cooked” in a microwave.


The next spots offer variations on that theme.

Remember Jet? They were a terrible band.

Here’s a slightly longer and juicier version of said steak.

We are very disappointed to learn that there is currently no band or vaporizer warehouse called “Vapor Angels.” Also, it’s still not just a steak.

And about those well-trained hands…

So that’s consistency in messaging. The release tells us that Applebee’s “today moved decisively to take back America’s neighborhoods” via the “American-made, wood-fired grills” and subsequent steaks featured above. It’s “the first chapter in the reinvention of the Applebee’s brand” with a renewed focus on the quality of the food itself.

Check out this line:

“In a new series of ads breaking tonight, Applebee’s will increase the reach and frequency of its message to historic levels through penetration of traditional broadcast and cable TV channels, prominent online platforms and movie theaters.”

Score one for traditional advertising, right? Here’s another mini-masterpiece:

“Since its creation in suburban Atlanta in 1980, Applebee’s has become part of the fabric of American life, a warm and familiar presence where everyone feels like an invited guest.”

It’s almost like that place that you want to go to sometimes where everybody knows your name.

Parent company DineEquity’s chairman and CEO Julia Stewart writes, “This goes far beyond a few new menu items or a limited-time offer. This is the biggest investment in culinary excellence in the company’s history – transforming the menu, instilling pride in our employees, delighting current guests and giving others a reason to come back.”

It’s a tall order, but we feel like they can maybe pull it off despite the fact that “this year, Applebee’s expects sales to range from a negative 2 percent drop to a 2 percent gain.” On the microwave thing, two years ago the line cook at the country’s number one Applebee’s location claimed in a Reddit AMA that “Probably less than 3-5%” of the food on a given Applebee’s menu was prepared in an automatic oven with the tiny waves.

We believe everything we read on Reddit, and you should too. It’s SEO gold!


Client: Applebee’s
Agency: Barkley
Jason Elm: executive creative director
Corey Favier: creative director
Doug Hentges: creative director
Graham Green: art director
Ruth Collins: senior producer
Bryce Richardson: senior writer
Chris Cardetti: strategy director