TGIF’s Very Friendly Online Promotion

What happens when a social media strategy takes off faster than expected?

TGI Friday’s found out this month when, after just six days of media support, its new marketing character, Woody, achieved a Facebook promotional goal expected to occur over almost 30 days. The momentum swell that initially buoyed the brand online, in fact, threatened to drag it down — until some quick thinking helped save the day.

TGIF’s enviable “problem” began with the creation of Woody, developed by its new agency, Publicis, New York (which worked with sibling Digitas on the campaign). Earlier this month, to prove his self-described “No. 1 fan” status, Woody needed to acquire 500,000 friends on Facebook by Sept. 30. Each friend would receive a coupon for a free Jack Daniel’s burger or chicken sandwich in return.

After a soft launch on Sept. 2 and subsequent e-mail campaign, Woody picked up 80,000 friends-even before TV and digital banners were launched Sept. 7. Sunday, Sept. 13, Woody hit the 500,000 mark. “[It was] fascinating to watch this explode,” said Rob Feakins, president, CCO, Publicis, New York, of the highly successful campaign.

It was also stressful. With two weeks of paid media to go, the agency knew it had to add to the strategy. So on the 13th, after an exchange of 80 agency/client e-mails and five conference calls, it was agreed the promo would be extended.

As it turned out, that was a very good decision. That same Sunday night it became clear that Woody’s friends who joined after the 500,000 level was hit were unhappy they’d missed out on the promo. The negative chatter carried over into Monday. People voiced frustration about not getting a coupon; accused Woody of working for TGIF; and complained about the use of marketing ploys in social media. On Monday, Woody offered six free chicken wings during that night’s Monday Night Football at participating TGIFs. Few were appeased.

On Tuesday, Woody hinted good news was in the works. Later that day, an online video was posted extending the promo to the first 1 million sign-ups.

By late afternoon last Friday, Woody had 784,000 friends. (It’s not expected he’ll re-up his goal a second time.)

“It was interesting to see how quickly the page turned,” said Feakins. “With social media and advertising we’re at a collision point. You have zero control when things are good … or when they go south.”

Facebook has obviously become fertile ground for marketers. But with Woody, Publicis is seeking to create a more long-term bond with friends than a short-term bump in restaurant traffic and sales.

“The question is, how do we use Woody going forward?” said Feakins. “This is different from other ‘free’ promotions. The burger was the mechanism, but Woody allowed the introduction for TGI Friday fans to get together. Can these guys sustain each other three weeks from now? Have we garnered the loyalty of his fans?”

Given the fact Woody is positioned as a fan and not a brand spokesman, his persona has to be handled carefully, which is why he won’t be making regular appearances in TV ads. A major concern was whether the Facebook community would accept an actor among them, and while there were opinionated comments about that role, Publicis said he received over 200,000 viewings of his videos and more than 100,000 wall postings. The feedback to Woody, said Feakins, was “shockingly positive.”

Nielsen Business Media