Arby's vegetarian fun brings home the bacon

The fast-food chain's vegetarian support effort highlights the benefits of adding humor to the brand marketing mix.

Arby’s embraced its meaty heritage this week when it launched a support hotline for vegetarians, reminding brands – and people, in general – why it’s important not to take everything too seriously.

For those who missed it: Arby’s inked an open letter to vegetarians on Tuesday, saying it supports their choice to try as they might to avoid its latest Brown Sugar Bacon creation.

When the site went live with a video entitled "Are you a vegetarian?" on Tuesday morning, the 30-second spot received about 60 views on YouTube in the first hour, and within 24 hours, that number skyrocketed to more than 76,000.

Content that appeals to a reader’s sense of humor is one of the five influential factors in whether or not something will be shared, according to a study from the The New York Times Customer Insight Group.

Results from another study last year by Current Lifestyle Marketing revealed that the majority of Millennial mothers feel they’re being over-marketed to on social media; however, 51% still want to continue receiving humorous content from brands.

Arby’s campaign also drew coverage from the likes of Eater, Time, Huffington Post, Mashable, and ABC News on the first day.

Not only can incorporating lightheartedness help brands gain attention from consumers and media, it can even lead to an increase in sales and trial if done right.

Newcastle’s cheeky If We Made it Super Bowl campaign is the perfect example. The Heineken brand won 13 awards at Cannes for the program, and achieved a triple-digit increase in sales after the Super Bowl at stores where the product was bring promoted. Newcastle also saw a 9% increase in trial among Millennial males aged 21 and over following the campaign launch.

One caveat with humor – it’s not easy. Making people laugh or smile is hard, especially on a mass scale, and it’s even more difficult to be funny without someone taking offense or finding the joke to be stupid.

While Arby’s vegetarian initiative garnered a few negative responses on social, the overall response seems to lean more toward positive.

Luke DeRouen, director of brand communications and content at Arby’s, told PRWeek that the fast-food chain actually has a few vegetarian employees, and "they admitted it was going to be tough to resist."

Talking to its own staffers was a smart move because it offered a small test on how other non-meat eaters may react to the effort.

Using research or a test group before launching something intended to be funny is necessary to avoid as much potential backlash as possible, especially for a long-term campaign.

For a quick post on social, vetting the concept with other staffers is key to check that the humor is relevant to the brand. It would probably be a bad idea for a spirits company to joke about driving, for example. And perhaps if more people read Kenneth Cole’s tweet before it was posted two years ago during Egypt’s revolutions, the menswear brand would have avoided an onslaught of criticism.

Understandably, humor may not work for every brand. (It’s probably much easier for the likes of Arby’s than BP). But if and when it makes sense, integrating a bit of levity into a brand marketing or social media effort can turn heads, gain fans, and possibly affect the bottom line.

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