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Hey Arby’s, Where’s the Beef?

Arby's restaurant branding roast beef article

Let me start off by saying that I have no beef with Arby’s. I love the original roast beef sandwiches, and their other offers are pretty good, too. However, over the past few years this fast food chain has fought with an identity crisis compounded by an acute case of multiple personality disorder. Recently, Arby’s, the QSR well known for their delicious roast beef sandwiches and tasty curly fries, has once again changed directions. With their latest brand positioning and accompanying advertising campaign, Arby’s seeks be known as the fast food meat haven. While this seems like an intelligent next step, it leaves people wondering: Where’s the beef?

Arby’s has spent countless dollars trying to pull market share away from their burger brethren. In recent history we’ve seen the brand go from the mentally ambiguous “I’m thinking Arby’s” to the emotionally charged “Good Mood Food” approach with a couple of detours here and there for good measure. Each angle featured a few memorable elements like the floating logo above hungry people’s heads, or the singing guy popping out of the “Good Mood Food” logo lockup. More recently in yet another brand direction, Arby’s subjected us to a more utilitarian approach when a semi-famous Bo Dietl used his super-sleuth skills to try to locate a slicer at competing restaurants. The goal was to insinuate that Arby’s sliced their meats fresh in house making them a higher quality product. None of these brand approaches have really taken hold with the consumers leaving only one natural option: Arby’s has to get real.

Arby’s new advertisements have hit television and digital channels this week, and feature a sultry deep voice introducing slabs of meat. Super-stacked sandwiches and fresher-looking products are put front and center pushing meat as Arby’s point of differentiation. The ads metaphorically wave the flag that Arby’s is the place to go for fresh, savory sliced deli meat sandwiches. Their new slogan, “We have the meats,” makes things quite clear: Arby’s wants to be known for meat.

One would think that with “meat” as the brand’s new attempted point of differentiation and battle cry that roast beef would be the leader of the charge. However, their iconic roast beef sandwich, the proverbial “Baby”, has been put in the corner once again taking a backseat to sandwiches driven by other meats.

Why is Arby’s so afraid to push their flagship product? It’s what put them on the map. It’s what has made them different throughout the years. Extending the product offering to other meats isn’t a bad move by any stretch of the imagination. Roast turkey, smoked briskets, and savory corned beefs are natural line extensions, but why has roast beef gotten the short end of the stick?

There are a couple reasons why this is happening. First, the brand has had a hard time accepting that they are synonymous with the roast beef sandwich. I’m sure sales dictate that it can’t survive on that one item alone, so extending the offering is a smart move, but not at the cost of putting said flagship item in the shadows. The move is essentially trying to change a public understanding that’s rooted with decades of brand loyalty and experiences. It’s like trying to convince people that water isn’t wet.

Instead of adding new items that sidestep the roast beef standard, Arby’s should be concurrently building a better roast beef product. New roasting flavors, bigger stacks of beef, better quality roast beef in general. Perfect the flagship product and bring these new items along for the ride. This would further establish Arby’s as the go-to Meat czar of the fast food kingdom.

Secondly, the brand is severely searching for an identity they can’t seem to find. Although their logo is rather iconic and easy to identify, it has been retooled three times in the last few years with new type treatments. The support design aesthetics have also been altered from campaign to campaign alongside the overall vibe. While “Good Mood Food” had a down-home country vibe about it, the new campaign runs with a Barry White meets boring white look and feel.

The lack of definitive identity is extremely apparent in their new remodeling program. The flagship storefront looks like a watered down, design-by-committee-driven piece of architectural camouflage. It’s forgettable and doesn’t have the chutzpah to disrupt the norm enough to even warrant a second look.

Finally, Arby’s has had a changing of the guard with the ownership and leadership over the last few years. This explains the directional confusion as each new C-level executive has his or her own ideas of what Arby’s future is supposed to be. The new leadership should be at the helm for more than just a few years as long as the new brand direction proves successful. That tenure should bring forth a consistent movement towards one direction. Right now that direction looks like Arby’s will be the meatiest QSR the world has ever seen.

 


Joseph serves as principal and creative director at Vigor, a restaurant and beverage branding and marketing firm, and curator/author/podcaster/host for Grits X Grids.

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  1. Ed King

    18 August

    Chick-fil-A has held with their cow campaign for nearly 20 years. I don’t think that campaign is all that brilliant, but it speaks to the need and effectiveness for adhering to a consistent message.

    • Consistency and staying true to your core offering is a must. You’re right, Chick-Fil-A has proven it so. Thanks for commenting Ed!

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