Arby's, a brand famous for its roast beef sandwiches, found itself being famously roasted by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Stewart's running gag of revising the brand's slogans snowballed into a fan favorite routine, regularly mocking its food with pretend-tag lines such as "Arby’s: Technically it’s food,” and “Arby’s: You think pain and grief are hard to digest."
Arby's did a masterful job turning punchlines into publicity; graciously sending Stewart off with a smile on their face. Arby's participated in Stewart's final episodes, producing a goodbye Jon commercial for the host's final episode and even dedicating a sandwich in his honor. By joining Stewart for a laugh, Arby's earned a lot of buzz on social media.
Yet I wonder if Arby's missed out on a fantastic opportunity more than it capitalized on one. Sure, stealing a couple weeks of free press and isn't at all a bad thing; however, it takes more than a winning personality to build a strong brand. To win categories, brands must sustain laser-focused positions that are relevant to a target demographic - something that Arby's has been sorely missing lately.
Arby's has been juggling brand positions and approaches faster than customers can keep up. Not too long ago, when upscale quick-serve restaurants began stealing share from the fast food establishment, Arby's changed its official talking point to freshness. Arby's positively proclaimed it was serving up "Good mood food." Before that they were "slicing up" the same "freshness" as the Subway down the street. Today, with millennials as a new focus for the brand, Arby's went animalistic with its appeal to to young men, simply saying, "We have the meats."
Although Arby's proved it could be a good sport, the real punchline might be missed if Arby's doesn't respond with changes to its business operations. The genius of Jon Stewart's Daily Show comedy routine has always been that it's rooted in truth. This fact doesn't stop with Arby's. The reason Stewart's Arby's bit resonated with audiences was, at least in part, because of the truth behind it. For Arby's to not acknowledge that the faux-taglines are real perceptions of the brand is a missed opportunity to transform fleeting publicity into a sustainable, focused position that's relevant to a target demographic.
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