A&W's communications strategist outlines social media trends

Jan. 10, 2014 | by Alicia Kelso

Following A&W Restaurants' 2011 divestiture from Yum! Brands, the soon-to-be 95-year-old company embarked upon some identity searching. Those efforts took off last year when the company launched a new marketing campaign focused on the resurrection of Rooty The Great Root Bear.

The mascot had been silenced for about 10 years as some executives didn't believe he was effectively elevating the brand.

Now, with an active social media presence across multiple channels, an interactive "Burping Rooty" mobile app and an online "bear cam" that follows Rooty's activities all day, every day, A&W is prepared for an even more active 2014. QSRweb.com had the chance to recently talk to Liz Bazner, social and digital communications strategist, about social media trends and the brand's 95th anniversary celebration planned for later this year.

QSRweb.com: What changes, if any, do you see in social media marketing in 2014?

Liz Bazner: We found we've had a lot of success playing in the world of social media; it allows us to compete with the bigger brands, put us on an even playing field. We've had a lot of fun coming up with creative campaigns that don't break the bank.

That said, we've already launched a campaign around our cheese curds called "A Picture's Worth 1,000 Curds." We want people to send user-generated content because it helps us bridge the gap between social media — what happens online — and what you see in stores. The campaign encourages customers to go into the store, which is the goal — more butts in seats and more money being spent.

QSRweb.com: Do you have any other campaigns already scheduled for this year?

LB: Two others are planned right now. Our National Root Beer Float Day is in August. That is the biggest event we did last year online. Everything about that campaign is organic — no paid costs, all creative was created in-house and spread out through as many changes as possible.

It's also our 95th anniversary this year, and our focus on this will primarily be in September and October. We'll have a new product launch based around it in the spring. We thought about doing something all year long for our anniversary, but we didn't want to dilute the message over 12 months.

QSRweb.com: Do you think it will be difficult to use digital and social platforms while simultaneously marking 95 years?

LB: I frequently think about the fact that a lot of things we're doing are not the things people expect A&W to do. We are proud of our heritage, but we don't want to be 95 and irrelevant or outdated.

QSRweb.com: How has the 'Burping Rooty' app been doing, especially with some of A&W's base?

LB: The app took a little bit for some to warm up to, but as soon as those in the Boomer generation saw how kids were responding to it, they completely changed their minds on it. We've had nearly 100-percent positive feedback about the app. It's been really fun to see our board members and our franchise partners who have been in the business for 10, 20, 30 years, getting excited about this.

We don't want to alienate our base, but we needed something for our younger audience. Everyone's going after the Millennal group, and we're no different just because we've been around a long, long time. We're hoping to add to the app this year, so it has more functionality.

QSRweb.com: Do you expect video to play a bigger role in social media campaigns this year?

LB: I really like video, especially with Vine and Instagram. And now Facebook has it so you don't have to press play. Video is a great way to get your message out there, and it's another touch point for brands. It's fun to see brand doing something with video that is more than just a 'yell and sell.'

QSRweb.com: Facebook has admitted that it's losing teens. Does this trend concern you or affect your strategy at all?

LB: Facebook is still very relevant for a lot of people and will be for us, too. I think teens are turning to Instagram and Twitter because it's a lot faster than Facebook for them. They see Facebook as being slow, having too much irrelevant information and including a bunch of old people. There is definitely a trend toward the more visual channels.

We have gotten some good early response on Instagram — it was one of the ideas behind our cheese curd campaign. If younger people aren't on Facebook, we'll find another avenue to get them to interact with the brand. But there is a balance — you don't want to be on every channel all the time and spread yourself too thin.

Read more about social media marketing.

Alicia Kelso / Alicia has been a professional journalist for 15 years. Her work with FastCasual.com, QSRweb.com and PizzaMarketplace.com has been featured in publications around the world, including NPR, Good Morning America, Voice of Russia radio, Consumerist.com and Franchise Asia magazine.
View Alicia Kelso's profile on LinkedIn

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