Rebranding after the recession

March 28, 2011 | by Alicia Kelso

From a reporting perspective, covering business was about as uplifting as running one during “The Great Recession.”

Day after day of pouring over unfavorable fiscal summaries and talking to discouraged operators was frustrating - disheartening, even. Yes, journalists look for the proverbial silver lining every now and then.

While there is still some healing that needs to be done, those times have officially been declared over. Consequently, the National Restaurant Association is optimistic, sales are rebounding, investors are re-emerging and consumers are making plans to dine out.

Chains are also poised to do their best Phoenix-from-the-ashes impression, touting expansion plans, reimaging stores, trying out new core items and updating brand campaigns.

New marketing taglines have been emerging at a dizzying pace. And as there is typically a sun after every storm, these new messages are upbeat and positive.

Consumers who got used to “Thinking Arby’s,” for example, are now craving “Good Mood Food.” KFC fans didn’t relate well to the company’s “Unthink” slogan, so it switched gears in the summer of 2010 to “So Good.”

In other words, in marketing speak: Good equals good.

But not only are recession-weary consumers craving sanguinity, they also remain frugal. They want more bang for their buck, but they also want better quality food. That’s a fine line to tread.

Some brands are trying to hit that balance by rolling out campaigns that are simple, focusing on quality and authenticity.

Wendy’s launched its post-recession, back-to-the-basics message, “You Know When It’s Real” in late 2009 to focus on its fresh, quality menu items.

Even McDonald’s recently upgraded its popular (8-year-old) “I’m Lovin’ It” campaign to make it “more authentic.”

And it doesn’t get more uncomplicated than Long John Silver’s "We Speak Fish," CKE Restaurants’ Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s “Just the way it is” or Culver’s “Welcome to Delicious” taglines.

David Stidham, vice president of marketing for Culver’s, summed up the company’s rebranding efforts when he said that guests are simply looking for genuine experiences and quality over quantity.

After a few years of pinching pennies, facing a very real possibility of unemployment and perpetual bad news, who can blame them?

Topics: Food & Beverage , Marketing , Marketing / Branding / Promotion , Operations Management

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

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