Brand promotional opportunities are everywhere for the restaurant industry, especially if marketers are creative and brave and enough to get in on politics.
Kentucky-based Dippin' Dots and New Jersey-based Villa Italian Kitchen proved up for the challenge this week when they build promotions around Donald Trump's administration.
Dippin' Dots turn customer rants into promotional raves
Dippin' Dots wins the "turning lemons into lemonade" award for its quick, creative and upbeat response to an ongoing customer rant. In this case, the remarks came from Trump's press secretary, Sean Spicer, who has Tweeted several times about his dislike for the brand flash-frozen spherical dessert
"Our goal was to be responsive to our fans and the millions of people who were waiting to hear … from Dippin' Dots. If mass Dippin' Dots cravings ensue, that's awesome. But ultimately, we were listening to the public and answering their call to action." Dippin' Dots Spokeswoman Billie Stuber.
The presidential spokesman (and apparently ice cream aficionado) has repeatedly castigated the brand over social media to do everything from eschewing Dippin' Dots tagline as the "ice cream of the future," to griping about inadequate supplies of vanilla dots at a sports event he was attending.
But when Spicer stepped into the global limelight this week as the primary presidential mouth to the media, Dippin' Dots' in-house and outside agency promotions people saw their golden opportunity and seized it. Monday, the company made its first move by posting an open letter from CEO Scott Fischer on its website to Spicer.
"We've seen your tweets and would like to be friends rather than foes," Fischer said in his letter. "After all, we believe in connecting the dots."
It was an astute response that evoked just the right tone and catapulted the brand to prominent placement on every major national news network, as well as those venerable old scions of journalism, like the New York Times and Washington Post.
"When the Press Secretary's past tweets about Dippin' Dots resurfaced and began trending on social media, our customers were looking for a response. We knew we needed to respond to cool the air," Dippin' Dots Spokeswoman Billie Stuber told QSRWeb. "Based on (Spicer's) sweet response back to us about doing something good for first responders and military, I'd say we are on the same page about using ice cream to bring smiles to the faces of people across the country! … We're a fun, friendly brand. It's in our DNA, really! We wanted to respond to Mr. Spicer, and our fans, in a transparent and authentic way. So we did that, and our position on the matter has been well received."
Stuber said that while measurements for the whole ordeal's effect on the brand haven't been tallied yet, early results indicate it could be a very positive one.
"Our goal was to be responsive to our fans and the millions of people who were waiting to hear … from Dippin' Dots.," Stuber said. "If mass Dippin' Dots cravings ensue, that's awesome. But ultimately, we were listening to the public and answering their call to action.
"We've answered Mr. Spicer's suggestion to provide Dippin' Dots to the military and first responders. We'll share more information once all the details are worked out, so there will be more to come on this topic down the road."
Another great example of largely free positive press
Through Spicer, Dippin' Dots had an "in" to catch the wave of media that is enveloping all things Trump-related, but Villa managed to get a lift from that media swell simply by staying attuned to the news and then connecting a trending topic to its products in a positive way.
For Villa Italian Kitchen brand the free media lift came thanks to a marketing move the brand took that connected its pizza with the national buzz surrounding a Trump administration-related story involving the non-sensical phrase used by one of its senior advisers, "alternate facts."
On the weekend "Meet the Press" show, host Chuck Todd asked Senior Trump Advisor Kellyanne Conway why White House spokesman Spicer had qualified Trump's inauguration crowd as "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration." Photos of the event and other interpretations concerning the inaugural crowd size showed this classification was an overstatement at best.
Still, on "Meet the Press," Conway told Todd that "Sean Spicer, our press secretary — gave alternative facts." But Todd responded that "alternative facts aren't facts. They are falsehoods."
The reference, however, had what those in the news business call "legs" and it ran away on a life of its own across global media, which soon was brimming with references to what many saw as a somewhat comical oxymoron-like classification.
Villa Italian Kitchen picked up on that and maximized it, calling some of that positive media attention to its pizza by creating what the brand dubbed an," #AlternateFacts Zero-Calorie Meat Lovers Pizza."
The promotion poked fun at the whole ordeal and evoked lots of attention to the chain, which was clearly having fun promoting a product that boasted its own "alternate facts" about food calories since it's touted as being calorie-free though loaded with fatty meats like bacon.
The company even constructed a press release about the proudly fake news of its diet-food pizza pushing the news that "Villa Italian Kitchen, one of America's favorite quick-service pizza brands, has finally mastered what pizza fanatics watching their waistbands have been waiting for … a zero-calorie pizza."
Both of these examples serve to remind all marketers that opportunities are truly everywhere most of the time if your team can master the often tricky art of responding appropriately.
After all, just as valuable as these two examples have proven the opportunity for unpaid media marketing is, the devastation it can potentially still cause exists. Cinnabon learned that the hard way last month when its well-intended social media post following the sudden death of Carrie Fischer blew up in its face.
In that case, no one intended anything but respect, but many customers online perceived otherwise and scolded the brand for being "offensive."