Brand Blogging

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Wendy's and Arby's ridiculous new menu items

Terri: I'm so hungry I could eat at Arby's!

The only Arby's I'd ever been to was the one down the street from where I went to high school. I think I ate there a total of one time before they closed it down and turned it into a Wendy's.

Both of these fast-food chains are in the midst of menu additions that seek to make their respective brands more upscale, at least to the extent that a place (as Peter Griffin would say) where homeless people go to make BM can be made more upscale. For starters, Wendy's has introduced its line of "Frescata" sandwiches. The Google search string frescata -wendy -wendy's -wendys seems to indicate that the word is a Spanish/Italian/Portuguese last name, though it's obvious that Wendy's wants to evoke the idea of freshness and Italianness. According to an article from Time a few months back:

To keep growing, fast-food chains have to offer new reasons for people to come into the store. That's what Wendy's has always done best. It will have a chance to prove itself again later this year when it unveils its Frescata cold sandwiches. The Frescata line uses high-quality meat and focaccia bread developed with the artisanal bakery La Brea. Wendy's has a financial relationship with La Brea through the Canadian company Tim Hortons, a coffee and bakery chain that Wendy's bought in 1995. That's one reason Schuessler plans to hold onto Tim's, despite pressure from some hedge funds to spin it off. The bread gets its final baking in the restaurants, a technique that Meyer of CSFB says will be harder for other companies to copy than earlier innovations were.
Interesting. making use of a strategic partnership by using it as a learning process. You have to wonder what La Brea (if its managers have enough insight) is learning for itself. Perhaps they'll start serving a junior bacon triple on a fragrant roasted garlic loaf bun. (Interesting fact: Wendy's is based in Dublin, Ohio; La Brea is owned by IAWS, based in Dublin, Ireland.)

The Frescata commercials make me suspicious for a couple of reasons. First, the way they look. I've had my share of Wendy's burgers, which theoretically, at least according to Wendy's, look like this:

In reality, they look more like this:

Yes, there are five patties on that burger. But what I wonder is how the the empirical Frescata will deviate from this representation, taken Wendy's site:

And furthermore, what does this have to do with those people who buy the five-patty burgers? The idea of a deli sandwich just seems so foreign for a place that primarily sells hamburgers. (Though perhaps the same could have been said when they first introduced baked potatoes.)

As for Arby's, they've been trying for a few years now to change their image. First it was with those annoying oven mitt commercials. Tragically, the oven mitt died in a knife fight with the Hamburger Helper Helping Hand. (Interesting fact: the oven mitt was voiced by Tom Arnold, who received free Arby's food for life as payment. That's kinda disgusting on multiple levels if you think about it too much.)

Recently, Arby's has been playing commercials promoting their new Market Fresh™ Roast Beef Gyro (though you wouldn't know it from their web site, which hasn't been updated since 2004 and looks like it was created using all of the web design know-how that 1998 had to offer). The Market Fresh label refers to a line of somewhat fancy (for Arby's) sandwich and salad items. Two things bother me about this sandwich: first, in the commercial they pronounce it "hero," which is not one of the two acceptable pronunciations for gyro ("jye-ro," "yeero"); second, a gyro doesn't have roast beef, at least not roast beef as we have commonly come to think of it. It has beef that has been roasted, but it doesn't have roast beef. And yet, let's take a look at the press release:

“If Arby’s were in Greece, this is what the locals would be lining up to enjoy,” said Greek culture expert, Maria Pantelis, who was born and raised in Athens. “Arby’s gyro has all of the authentic ingredients that you would look for in a gyro."

Now, I've been eating gyros all my life. I am passionate about gyros. I've been involved in heated arguments concerning gyros and their classification with regard to similar foods (viz. doner kabob and shwarma). So I can say with absolute certainty that a gyro with thin-sliced roast beef is about as authentic as Donald Trump's hair/Ashley Simpson's singing/Pamela Anderson's Boobs/etc.

Overall, I think that both sandwiches, whatever their merits, will fade into oblivion along with the Arch Deluxes of yesteryear. At the very least, it's not as ham-fisted as KFC's recent initiative to reposition itself into a competitor for the "casual dining" dollar; this primarily consists of tv commercials in which one person informs a companion that they bought lunch at KFC for half of what it would cost at a casual dining restaurant. This, of course, completely ignores the fact that no one in the known history of the English language has ever used the phrase "casual dining restaurant" in the course of everyday conversation. It also leaves the viewer wondering about the relationship of price to quality, but that's a subject for another post.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The 24-Hour News Network as a Lifestyle Brand: How Fox News Succeeds Where CNN Fails

(Also published in Poindexter)

During the 2005 holiday season, I was watching a Fox News special on Jesus (essentially an hour-long puff piece) when I realized that, compared to CNN, Fox has much more brand equity—“the distinguishing qualities of a commercial brand that results in personal commitment to and demand for the brand” (
Webster's New Millennium Dictionary)—for a very good reason. By now, everyone knows that even though it may maintain that its presentation of the news is “Fair and Balanced,” Fox News is anything but. However, Fox’s bias is the key to what makes it so successful. By presenting news with a clear agenda, it allows viewers to feel more strongly about viewing Fox News than viewers who watch CNN. Fox’s strategy corresponds to the basic rules of branding: A brand must be targeted (i.e., directed at an audience) and positioned (presented to that audience) in a specific way in order to gain brand equity. To put it another way, imagine the typical CNN viewer. Now imagine the typical Fox News viewer. Which one was harder to imagine? Fox News succeeds where CNN fails because Fox is a lifestyle brand—a brand that is not only consumed by its target audience on a regular basis (as by watching it), but also one that its target audience wants to be associated with. (BusinessWeek’s David Kiley provides a good discussion of what a lifestyle brand is in the July 5, 2005 entry of his Brand New Day blog.

News sources will always have their biases. The crucial difference is that Fox intentionally plays up its biases. For example, in about an hour of watching Fox News during late December, I witnessed every anchor emphatically wish his or her counterpart a merry Christmas (never using the supposedly anathema exp
ression “happy holidays”), almost as if repetition of the phrase was the network’s way of fighting the (nonexistent) “War on Christmas, ” a silly contrivance that allows Fox to connect with viewers by furthering a persecution complex with practically no basis in reality; additionally, a pro-war scroll ran at the bottom of the screen saluting the troops in language so grandiose that it was, given the context of its appearance in a news ticker, frankly ridiculous. Fox News does not simply give its viewers a wink and a nod regarding where it stands; it purposely lets it all hang out—and for a lifestyle brand this is absolutely necessary.

What it comes down to is that a strong brand engenders strong feelings. This is especially true for lifestyle brands. A typical Fox News viewer feels better about watching Fox News than a CNN viewer does about watching CNN. The ratings that the two channels receive seem to reflect this: while CNN has greater reach (that is, the total number of people in a week who will watch), Fox garners higher ratings points. To put it another way, if the TV-watching universe consisted of 13 people, in one week ten might at some point watch a few minutes of CNN apiece while the other 3 might each view a full hour of Fox. So while CNN is viewed by more unique viewers, Fox News has a core audience that watches more hours of programming overall. Furthermore, the attachment that many Fox News viewers feel for the channel—especially when compared to CNN—is easily demonstrated by the disparity between Fox and CNN’s online stores. On the front page there is no discernible link to the CNN store, which I could only find by googling for it. On the other hand, the front page has links to its store within the top and bottom navigation panels, as well as the following banner ad:

(During the holiday season multiple banners appear on the front page.) The Fox News store offers a much wider selection than CNN’s store, with items available for purchase including pet accessories, an umbrella, a leather tote bag, even a $200 Fox News varsity jacket. For comparable Fox News and CNN items, the Fox version is always priced higher; even though the products are the same except for the logos displayed, Fox can charge a higher price, because their gear is in higher demand. The obvious implication of higher demand for Fox News merchandise is that Fox viewers are much more likely to practice conspicuous consumption (using a brand or advertising one’s preference for a brand in public) of Fox News–branded items, meaning that Fox viewers are more strongly anchored to the brand and wish to be seen as such—the hallmark of a lifestyle brand.

The Fox News strategy of unambiguously tailoring its presentation to a specific audience is part of its overall branding strategy; in most cases a brand cannot be one size fits all (unless it’s something like Tylenol, and no-one walks around with a shirt bearing that logo). As such, any semblance of fairness or balance gets tossed out the window. However, by pandering to a specific target audience, Fox was able to find its niche and boost its brand equity well above that of CNN's. And as with any lifestyle brand, those target audience members (or “Fox Fans,” as the network calls them) value their consumption of Fox News as an aspect of their personality.