iPhone applications may be either the next Web site or the next mini burger, meaning that either restaurant chains soon will wonder how they’ve lived without them or that iPhone apps are simply another passing bandwagon on which many more will jump than is wise or necessary.
Taco Bell this week announced that it has hired R/GA as its new digital marketing agency as part of what the company’s release calls “an enhanced effort to further integrate digital into their marketing mix.” R/GA, like lead Taco Bell agency Draftfcb, is part of the Interpublic network. “Taco Bell is a vibrant and youth-driven brand that understands that digital is a key component to connecting with consumers where they live,” according to R/GA Chairman, CEO and Global Chief Creative Officer Bob Greenberg. OK, that makes sense to me.
This, however, simply doesn’t: Grey New York this week trumpeted the arrival of an “Apple iPhone stereoscopic 3D application” for client LongHorn Steakhouse that it crows is the first iPhone app for the casual-dining industry. This, says Grey, is part of the “Discover the West in You” ad campaign for LongHorn it launched in March.
OK, so what does casual dining’s first 3D iPhone app do for prospective or loyal customers? Well, says Grey New York, it “features a steak that can be flipped up to four times, and with the aid of 3-D glasses, in 3-dimension and stereoscope.” Huh?
It can’t locate a LongHorn or expedite a dinner reservation? Because that’s what the chain really needs. The 321-unit LongHorn Steakhouse chain is leaking sales and customers. For parent Darden Restaurants’ fiscal year ended May 31, 2009, LongHorn’s same-store sales were down 5.6% thanks to a 7.3% drop in same-store guest counts. A higher check average resulting from higher menu prices helped cover up some of the bad news.
Can someone tell me how LongHorn’s 3-D flipping steak diversion rebuilds this brand or why the chain spent part of its marketing budget on this toy’s development? “It gives you a direct connection to consumers, putting your logo in their pockets and connecting to their lives,” says Sean Crane, Grey New York creative director, whose faith that people actually are going to download the LongHorn dancing steak app (it’s free, but iPhones don’t have unlimited space) is laudable and suspect. “We’re very excited to be entering the iPhone app world,” adds Terry Stanley, EVP-Marketing for LongHorn. We’re happy for you.
The only direct connection this iPhone app may establish is between Grey New York and LongHorn’s marketing budget, and I suspect we’ll see a lot of digital sleight of hand by agencies on behalf of restaurant clients in the future. Agencies, after all, are in desperate need of new revenues sources, too.
Earlier this year, CKE Restaurants brought in agency 72andSunny to revamp Carl’s Jr.‘s and Hardee’s digital marketing, and it has done that. Hardee’s marketing for its new French Dip Thickburger includes a dedicated microsite, a Twitter persona, a Facebook page, banner ads and a “Parisian Pickup” iPhone app that feeds guys pseudo-French pickup lines (it also feeds guys by providing coupons). This fits with Hardee’s young and techno-savvy clientele much better than does LongHorn’s lame app. It also fits with Hardee’s marketing budget, which (unlike LongHorn’s) is large enough to be spread among many media.
In May, Hardee’s introduced the iBurger iPhone app that responds to munching sounds by making a picture of a Western Bacon Thickburger disappear, bite by bite. Useless? You bet, but in conjunction with Microsoft’s Tag It! Technology, iPhone users also can get Hardee’s coupons on their phones (just show your phone to the cashier!).
Pizza Hut, working with IMC2 in Dallas, has a mobile-pizza-ordering app downloadable for iPhone. Similarly, the iPhone app Burger King has been testing allows its user to locate a BK and order a sandwich in the time it takes LongHorn’s steak to flip four times.
Dunkin’ Donuts has hired Studiocom Interactive to ramp up its digital marketing. ChaiOne is working with Starbucks on iPhone apps. Wendy’s says it may hire a digital-media agency as the next phase of its marketing overhaul. All that is good news for digital-media agencies. Will it be good for consumers and restaurant brands, too?