As dining rooms reopened after pandemic shutdowns, Dine Brands and its Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill + Bar and IHOP concepts re-engaged their marketing teams to remind customers what they were missing.
The result included a viral smash – Applebee capitalizing on the “Fancy Like” viral sensation – and an emphasis on guest personalization, as prioritized by IHOP.
Both restaurant brands have engaged a broad base of marketing tools. John Peyton, CEO of the Glendale, Calif.-based company, noted on an earnings call in May that “our marketing plans encompass national television, digital media, social media platforms and one-to-one marketing.” .
John Cywinski, president of Applebee, said the concept’s marketing team continued to innovate around “the most enduring, memorable and likeable advertising campaign in the entire industry – and, frankly, outside industry,” he said. “Of course, I’m talking about ‘Eating well in the neighborhood’, a real source of pride for our franchise partners, the restaurant teams and our entire organization. We hear about our advertising all the time from our guests, and it always makes me smile.
Joel Yashinsky, Applebee’s chief marketing officer who joined the company in 2018, saw a tremendous opportunity when, in the summer of 2021, country singer Walker Hayes’ “Fancy Like” became a viral hit, touting the joy of a romantic date at Applebee’s.
The song, which took the internet by storm after Hayes and her daughter posted a dance on TikTok, ties in with Applebee’s genuine partnerships with music.
Yashinsky and the Applebee marketing team teamed up with Hayes, including securing the rights to the song, and hosted a photo party of the singer and his wife, Laney, at their local Applebee with a “Bourbon Street Steak and an Oreo (Cookie) Shake.” This allowed for a deserved media push with the image to mainstream entertainment outlets, generating excitement for the official launch of the “Fancy Like” Date Night at Applebee campaign.
This campaign included commercial spots, paid digital and social ads, email, social posts on Hayes’ social media, and earned media outreach that extended to trade posts. All of this demonstrated just how nimble Applebee has remained during the pandemic.
The brand has even brought the Oreo Cookie Shake back to over 1,500 Applebee restaurants across the country. It was a menu item mentioned in the song, but was cut during the pandemic downsizing.
The campaign generated more than 12 million organic views of the ad spots on YouTube. Social mentions of Applebee’s and “Date Night” have increased 215% since the song’s launch.
It wasn’t just about “Fancy Like”. Applebee has also offered collaborations with Disney, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Teremana Tequila, NBC’s “Football Night in America” and CBS’ “Survivor”, in addition to teaming up with Pepsi and Cheetos to bring the world flavored wings and cheese bites at the virtual Cosmic Wings and possibly on the Applebee’s menu.
IHOP also launched new programs under the leadership of Kieran Donahue, who joined the brand as Chief Marketing Officer in early 2021.
Donohue oversaw the planning and execution of the brand’s first loyalty program, the International Pancake Bank, which debuted in April. The rewards program allows customers to turn meals into crypto pancakes, or PanCoins. The debut was launched with a new smartphone application that enabled mobile payment.
Dine Brands Global, along with Applebee’s and IHOP, has more than 3,400 restaurants combined in 16 countries.
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Dine Brands will be honored as a Marketing Creator at CREATE: The future of restoration in Denver, September 19-21.