The most expensive thing you’ll ever say: restaurant tagline do’s and don’ts
26/11/17 Branding & Marketing Strategy , Restaurant Startup Strategy # , , , , , , , ,

The most expensive thing you’ll ever say: restaurant tagline do’s and don’ts

At a recent lunch with the Vigor team, someone brought up a chain restaurant slogan that they just couldn’t stand. It had a major cringe-factor, and didn’t communicate much. After throwing around some equally cringe-inducing variations on the tagline, we felt the need to do something constructive.

So we thought some restaurant tagline do’s and don’ts would be a good place to start. These aren’t really rules, mind you, since no piece of creative can really be evaluated in isolation. Additionally, some of these are no longer in use. But we hope they’ll get your gears turning and shed light not only on tagline approaches, but on brand strategy in general. Ok, let’s go.

Do #1: Share Your Purpose

A restaurant is so much more than what’s on the plate. At Vigor, we define a “passionate purpose” for each brand, and this purpose ties together every part of the brand, internal and external. Sharing this purpose in a compelling way is a great way to introduce someone to your brand.


Food with Integrity. —Chipotle

Puts a spotlight on the ethics of food sourcing—then jumps in that spotlight.

America Runs On Dunkin’ —Dunkin’ Donuts

Paints a picture of hardworking, industrious America, rolling along on tasty donuts.

You Deserve a Break Today —McDonald’s

Your boss and spouse may disagree, but thank heavens McDonald’s will give you a break.

Do #2: Show Your Personality

Another strong approach is to introduce the consumer to your brand personality. This can make an immediate connection on a personal level and set the stage for the rest of the experience.


Delightfully Tacky, Yet Unrefined —Hooters

Subverts expectation, makes no apologies, has fun along the way.

Come on Home —Hardees

This tone of voice wears a mustache and speaks slowly and reassuringly.

We Have the Meats —Arby’s

Goes full alpha meathead with tongue in cheek.

Do #3: Clarify Your Position

A third strong tagline tactic is to position yourself against the competition by calling out what makes your restaurant unique among competitors. As a side note, many of these tag lines become obsolete as the food landscape changes.


Think Outside the Bun —Taco Bell

Offers a break from the (at the time) sea of burgers and sammies.

Subs So Fast You’ll Freak —Jimmy John’s

Takes a bite out of typical delivery options, while slinging the crack of gen z, which, as it turns out, is speed.

Eat Fresh —Subway

Offers a break from processed and fried options in the QSR space, albeit with questionable credibility.

Don’t #1: Rest on Your Laurels

Consultants may be right when they tell you to keep doing what made you famous, but that doesn’t mean keep talking about it. Your claim to fame has an expiration date, unless you’re making an integrated play toward nostalgia or authenticity.


Home of the Whopper —Burger King

Well, now I know where to get one, just in case.

Home of the Original Double Decker —Big Boy

I doubt we can find the first person to place patty atop patty, but if we could, I don’t think they’d deserve a Nobel prize.

We Didn’t Invent the Chicken, Just the Chicken Sandwich. —Chik-fil-A

I’ll give Chik-fil-a a partial pass for showing some personality and positioning here, but it may be time to find something new to be proud of.

Don’t #2: Pat Your Own Back

“Says you” is one of our most often used pieces of advice at Vigor. If millennials are skeptical about about corporations, gen z’ers are conspiracy theorists. Nobody will believe your review of yourself, nor should they.


We do Chicken Right. —KFC

At least you never did one wrong.

Better Ingredients. Better Pizza. —Papa John’s

Sure, this one is famous, which is just another way of saying expensive. And do you believe it when you taste that sugary sweet sauce? Didn’t think so.

Not just good… it’s Sonic good. —Sonic

Rule #1 of definitions—don’t use the word to define itself.

Don’t #3: Waste Your Words

Think of your tagline as the most expensive thing your brand will ever say. You have to make it count for something. Or do you?


Come Hungry, Leave Happy.  —iHop

I won’t say which tagline kicked off this whole conversation, but I won’t say it isn’t this one.

What are You Eating Today? —Arby’s

Well Arby’s, I don’t know, but maybe we can talk about the weather over lunch?

Gourmet Chinese Food —Panda Express

It’s a shot at the positioning approach, yet falls into the “says you” trap in the most boring way possible.

Pat yourself on the back. You made it through this article. Creating a strategically sound, creatively compelling tagline can feel like a monumental task. And while guidelines like this can help and inspire, the best way to approach any piece of creative is to develop a proper strategy first. This strategy provides the lens through which to view your tagline, your visual identity, and everything else you do, ensuring that when you have your moment to be heard, what comes out is pitch-perfect for your audience and 100% cringe-free (unless that’s your brand personality).

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Killing the Colonel, one snicker at a time
20/08/15 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , , ,

Killing the Colonel, one snicker at a time

Originally posted on

For those of us desperately holding onto the cusp of the Millennial category, Colonel Sanders is an icon we remember fondly. He was a jovial Southern gentleman who only cared about making darn good fried chicken for his guests. He may have been a bit overprotective of his recipe, but who cared when the product was so delicious? It was a simple vision, and it worked well for KFC. Over the decades The Colonel was slowly phased out, as was the original brand name, Kentucky Fried Chicken. There wasn’t a big uproar as The Colonel himself has passed in 1980, it only seemed natural to move on. But now he’s back, or should I say his weirder and borderline creepy doppelgänger is back making a joke of the classic, beloved spokesperson icon.

Here’s a quick catch up for those who haven’t seen KFC’s recent advertising: KFC launched a new campaign featuring Saturday Night Live icon, Darrel Hammond. Hammond adorns the Colonel’s look from iconic white suit to prosthetics that gets him sort of close to almost looking just like Colonel Sanders. The prosthetics isn’t the only synthetic parts of the persona as Hammond adopts an exaggerated Southern accent and persona to the point of mockery. This week a new set of commercials for the fried chicken legend were launched featuring Hammond’s former comedy compatriot, Norm MacDonald. The spots derive from the same idea, same prosthetic Colonel Sanders, with a worse attempt at a Southern accent. So bad, in fact, he can’t keep the accent going long enough for a 30 second spot.

KFC advertisements featuring Darrell Hammond:

KFC advertisements featuring Norm MacDonald:

It’s quite evident that the agency responsible for this new angle is not from the South, nor have they spent any amount of time immersing themselves in Southern culture. It’s a result of basing cultural assumptions on commonly accepted stereotypes.

With every exaggerated snicker in the advertisement I cringe more and more.

Sure, I’m a Yankee-turned-Rebel, but since moving to the Southern US (ATL!) five years ago I’ve become quite fond of the mentality we have here. Southern hospitality is quite real and Colonel Sanders was a representation of that dying, endearing quality. With every exaggerated snicker in the advertisement I cringe more and more. Every second the mocking accent thickens I get a little more put off. I find myself asking: Is this really worth selling more fried chicken? What’s so wrong with being a good person, and actually caring about guests? Do Northerners actually think all Southerners are backwards idiots?

How would I answer in my opinion? No, selling more chicken at the expense of a benevolent icon is not worth it; there’s nothing wrong with being a beacon of good will and hospitality; and, yes, it seems Northerners think us Southerners are snickering fools.

KFC has a lot of endearing qualities. It sells comfort food that evokes feelings and thoughts of home, friends, family, and nostalgic good times. Those feelings are extremely powerful triggers for any generation, even the elusive Millennial. Far too often marketers and creatives rely on quippy wit, and tongue-in-cheek playfulness to drive storytelling and messaging. While we all enjoy a well-played pun, and timely jab of wit, sometimes that’s not what the brand’s communications demand. KFC is one such case.

I realize that KFC is a global brand, and not everyone understands the roots from which the company and its spokesperson originated. However, that’s no excuse to take the lazy approach of furthering a stereotype that misses the mark completely. KFC has the opportunity to use the good-natured, hospitable icon to create a tangible, authentic spirit inside and outside the four walls of the brand experience. It’s something no other competitor can own, yet they’ve chosen to tarnish the opportunity with a weird, mocking impostor.

One final note, the new KFC website is quite awesome.

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Consumer connections are the key to impactful restaurant marketing
17/03/15 Uncategorized # , , ,

Consumer connections are the key to impactful restaurant marketing

Originally published in Restaurant Hospitality Magazine, read the article here.

The other night a new commercial for a restaurant chain caught my attention. It wasn’t the content nor was it the offer that snatched my curiosity, but rather the utter monotony and lack of anything new. The moment sparked a dive into my mental catalog of restaurant advertising and marketing, and one glaringly blatant commonality sprang out: Something vital is missing.

Restaurants are pretty good at following the “rules” of advertising and marketing. Show your product to create enticement. Offer a deal to woo a new trial or lukewarm previous customer. Create excitement and put it on for a limited time to “act now before it’s too late.” For decades this playbook was successful, but the game has evolved. It’s no longer enough, and the reason is both simple and complex. It’s devoid of any emotional tie or offering beyond the restaurant’s core offering: food.

Things have changed in consumer perceptions of brands. In general, they don’t trust advertising. Scandals in ethics, poor quality of food and the proliferation of the effects of processed products have corroded the legitimacy of restaurant brands. Traditional advertising has become akin to listening to a politician on his podium. It invokes skepticism and, as a result, gets tossed aside as mostly false or a downright lie in some extreme cases. One thing is left floating in the consumer’s mind: “So what? Prove it.”

Furthermore, product-focused advertising is all about the brand and not about consumers and their lifestyle. It’s an entirely selfish, “me-me-me” mentality, which makes it easy to ignore. Think about it. When is the last time you ever engaged with a person who told you how amazing they were? “Hi, I’m Joseph. I’m the coolest guy you’ll ever meet.” I’m surprised you got through that sentence without wanting to walk away. Restaurants must shift their focus to the consumer’s lifestyle and attitude, and what their product does to enhance them. Brands that do this successfully—such as Chipotle, Starbucks and Apple—have created a connection that’s hard to break, thereby fostering loyalty and brand evangelism.

Something bigger must be present beyond the latest ad campaign to not just attract, but also connect with consumers. Having a passion for something beyond the core product helps brands rise above competitors that focus on price and product alone. In the extremely aggressive and saturated restaurant industry this passionate purpose elevates a brand above the din.

A passionate purpose creates an emotional connection engrained in the company’s culture from the top down, inside to the outside. It permeates through every part of the business. In order to follow suit, a brand has to stop squawking flimsy promises and start walking the walk. That’s a tall order for any company, but one that is vital for gaining market share or halting a decline in some severe cases.

So, where does a brand start? Here are three tips to start the shift from product-centric marketing to emotional communications that are driven by a passionate purpose.

1. Toss the food focus and dig deeper to focus on people.

Although a good product is important, and showing your delicious glory shots of food shouldn’t stop, people are attracted to brands that reflect core values and beliefs that align with their own. They buy from brands that bolster and communicate their lifestyle and attitude. When someone buys a Starbucks coffee, it represents his or her busy lifestyle and concurrent need for catering to his or her specific demands. Think of the person who orders a double grande latte, skinny, heated to 130°. That is someone with demands and little time. The Starbucks brand represents a status that consumers wish to convey to the world, and that statement is what attracts and retains their loyal patrons.

2. Pinpoint a passionate purpose that connects with consumers.

Finding and pinpointing a passionate purpose may be something that comes easily to some brands, but can be much harder for others. It’s not as simple as brainstorming ideas in a room. It has to make sense and connect with people, while being legitimate and authentic. That only comes from in-depth consumer insights, brand strategy development and a dedication to threading the passionate purpose throughout the organization. Missing the mark won’t necessarily hurt a brand much, but sticking the landing will make all the difference.

3. Inject that purpose throughout every part of the business.

Chipotle’s renowned dedication to sustainable products, sourcing and the fair treatment of livestock connects with consumer interests because they live that passionate purpose. Chipotle has done little on-air advertising, instead relying on their actions to spark word of mouth. Actions do speak louder than words, especially in a situation where credibility is in question. Chipotle’s actions across the board add weight and credibility to their passionate purpose.

Considerations for purchase have increased in complexity. They have less to do with a restaurant’s product or deal, and more to do with what buying the brand communicates to world on behalf of the consumer. While good food and service are important, they have reached parity, leaving people looking for a larger reason to patronize one brand versus another. Brands like Starbucks and Chipotle convey a status that connects with consumers beyond utilitarian food offering. They tap into emotions that are bolstered throughout their respective companies, and it’s that emotion that needs to be injected into restaurant brand marketing. That’s the missing ingredient.

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Key social media lessons found in the movie The Chef
09/03/15 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , ,

Key social media lessons found in the movie The Chef

Originally published on Medium

I finally watched Chef last night. I don’t know what took me so long, but thanks to Netflix, I finally did it. The movie is great, but the ties to marketing restaurants through a social media strategy are even greater. If you’re an owner/operator and didn’t find any inspiration in that particular element, you’re missing something big.

The brilliance of the movie’s take on social media wasn’t that it was so easy to do that a 12 year old could make it happen. No. It was that what this kid was doing was sharing a story and an authentic life via social channels. That’s what connected with people and started a movement.

However, that movement couldn’t have happened without a following to begin with, and that’s where a lot of restaurateurs and chefs both miss the mark. So, using the movie as a jumping off point, I decided to share three tips for making social media work for your culinary career, restaurant, and your brand.

(Spoiler Alert: I will be discussing some key elements of the plot. If you haven’t watched Chef, then proceed at your own risk.)

Do something crazy. In the movie, the character played by Jon Favreau didn’t even have a twitter account until his poor review went “viral.” His reaction was ill-advised, but it worked to his benefit at first. He responded to the reviewer with a sassy jab, which took the controversy further, but also put him on the Twitter map. So, do something crazy. Everyone is sharing the same stuff (eg. pictures of food, staff, etc.) If you follow suit there is nothing that makes you stand out. Be ballsy, be brave and do something that gets attention in the right way. It doesn’t have to be rude or fueled with a negative attitude like a cliche Kanye interruption.

Find what you love. In the story the chef’s fallout causes him to find something a lot of folks never find: a passion. He rekindles his passion for food and cooking in general. It was about simplifying his life and focusing his passion that pushed him through the rough spot and put him on course for a better, happier future personally and professionally. If you share things socially that are contrived, or devoid of passion, people will see through it quite quickly. Passion is something that’s authentic and can’t be faked, so go find it, go live it, and go share it.

Passion is something that’s authentic and can’t be faked

Share your life and story. As a single-unit or small multi-unit operator, or a chef, you have a huge opportunity that larger brands don’t. You can be human. Bigger brands lack the human element that attract people. They constantly try to inject it, but you’re at an advantage in that you can be yourself. In a social world where people are sick of being inundated with brand messaging, this is a huge opportunity. In Chef, the kid shares the journey from Miami back to LA moment by moment. This honesty, transparency and authenticity attracted masses of followers. It was human. It was real. In a digital world, realness is something in short supply.

Go beyond Facebook. In the movie, the two key platforms used were Twitter and Vine. Although many would say Vine has peaked, it’s interesting to see that Facebook wasn’t used at all. Now, this could be because Facebook didn’t pay to play, but the strategy is in line with the truths facing social media. Brands have to pay for Facebook to be effective, and even then, your messages are buried in a feed of other marketing messages. People, especially Millennials, are getting fed up with it and moving to other platforms. They’ve found haven in Instagram, Snapchat and GroupMe.

How long would you stay at a party if one person never stops talking and constantly tries to sell you things?

Converse, don’t yammer. It’s one thing to post and post and post, but that’s only one part of a conversation. The power of social media is found when it’s a two way street. Speak to people. Comment on their posts, share their stuff, and be a friend. Don’t get on a soapbox and constantly yammer on and on. That’s a great way to get ignored. Think about it: How long would you stay at a party if one person never stops talking and constantly tries to sell you things? Be a part of the conversation.

There are tons of other suggestions and strategies out there, but these five tips I find to be of great value for the smaller guys out there. Use these simple guidelines found in Chef, and you’ll be on your way to building something quite great. And go watch Chef, it’s a stellar flick.

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What’s causing TGI Fridays downfall?
10/07/14 Branding & Marketing Strategy # , , , , ,

What’s causing TGI Fridays downfall?

This article was posted to LinkedIn by request from their team, you can read it on that platform here.

Yesterday I had the honor of speaking with Alexander Kaufman from the Huffington Post about TGI Friday’s new promotion (AYCE Appetizers for $10) and the ramifications of it on their brand.  The article covers a lot of my opinions which were naturally confirmed by other restaurant experts, but I wanted to take the time to dig a little deeper.

For those that don’t know, TGI Friday’s launched a new, aggressive promotion where customers can get all the appetizers they can eat for only $10. It’s analogous to the slimy used car salesman. TGI Friday’s is pandering, peddling and pushing it’s low quality food at any cost. “What’s it gonna take to get you into an appetizer today?!” They might as well put a inflatable flailing arms guy out front of every location.

Although the promotion seems like it’s in the same vein as other promotions they’ve run in the past* this one seems more like a last ditch effort to stave off the inevitable: TGI Friday’s is failing. There are a number of drivers pushing towards this inevitable decline:

  1. They’re known for processed and frozen foods that aren’t great and definitely not healthy
  2. Their atmosphere is no longer unique and devoid of the attitude it once had
  3. Run on a business/operations model to which the market no longer responds

We all grew up eating at Casual FSRs whether it’s an Olive Garden, Applebee’s or Ruby Tuesday. These approachable restaurants touting fun-times and new experiences popped up all over the place decades ago. Their rapid growth could be attributed to a multitude to their new dining experiences, but that would only take a restaurant so far. The main reason places like Friday’s were about to replicate their concepts was the creation of processes that controlled consistency from location to location.

You could go to a Friday’s in New York and have the same experience you’d have in Florida. The food would be the same, the people, atmosphere, and so on. This assembly line approach to creating a restaurant experience was the foundation for their rapid growth. This strong backbone continues to keep things running, but a few recent trends have taken root and they’re directly chopping away at the core of the Friday’s model.

Farm-to-table craze hit the US market and with it came an ever-growing awareness around fresh ingredients and responsibly grown produce. Processed foods are now constantly demonized, and the rush towards eating better continues to skyrocket. Eating “healthy” isn’t about dieting any longer. It’s about eating fresher across the board and taking an acute interest in how animals are raised, how food is grown, and the effects of additives on the human body. Terms like “all natural”, “locally sourced” and “responsibly grown” are now apart of our vernacular.

People don’t want processed foods. They don’t want to eat frozen garbage that’s dropped in a fryer, or a bag of pasta heated in a boiling pot of water. It doesn’t matter how cheap you make it. That pushes the quality further into the gutter in the consumer’s mind. TGI Friday’s compounds their dedication to frozen, non-fresh foods by selling said food in a freezer at your local grocery store.

The second reason for the downfall of brand giants like Friday’s is their dining experience is worn out. The atmosphere of TGI Friday’s was always a zany, high energy, fun-time spot. Jokes about the amount of flare worn even made it into cult films like Office Space. It was a spot to go in the neighborhood because the other spots were rundown independent bars that were smoky, dingy and depressing. Casual FSRs brought a clean spot with a great vibe and changed the game.

However, with growth comes dilution of the restaurant’s brand. TGI Friday’s can’t be a neighborhood spot because neighborhoods have attitude, character and personalities that are different from anywhere else. TGI Friday’s is the exact same at every location. It’s been the same for decades. Nothing has changed which means we’ve all been there, done that.

In order to stay interesting and keep new trials and loyalty at a high, you have to grow and reconfigure the brand naturally. This means creating new ideas that reinvigorate the experience and interrupt the norm customer have come to expect. TGI Friday’s is the same today as it was yesterday and the only changes are the new promotions for cheap food.

Finally, the third reason Casual FSRs are declining and failing can be attributed directly to the Fast Casual movement. Independents and new small chains built on the fast casual format have sprung up with amazing atmospheres Their experiences have new character and authentic personality. These guys are fulfilling a desire in the market for higher quality food at a good price. Most Casual FSRs can’t offer the same.

The fast casual format alone has eliminated the need or desire for a full service casual experience. New fast casuals serve craft beers, craft cocktails and amazing food. They meet the markets demands for fresher ingredients and more sophisticated flavor profiles. What’s more is this format can keep prices low on the food because there isn’t the need for a large staff to run the ship. People aren’t concerned with having someone wait on their table. In a fast casual format the food is brought to you and you’re left in peace to enjoy the meal which is all most people ever wanted anyway. Save the waiters for a night out at a fine dining restaurant.

The very things that constructed the backbone of casual FSRs behemoths are exactly the things crushing them. This traditional model is dying quicker and quicker. Unfortunately, the only way these slow casual restaurants will change the inevitable is with a full overhaul of the business model, operations and food. It doesn’t look like any of them are even considering it.

What are your thoughts on the promotion and the future of TGI Friday’s and/or the slow casual restaurant model?

* – TGI Fridays ran a promotion pushing 2 for $20 in 2012.

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