Industry News | January 21, 2009

Red Lobster Isn't Laughing

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As further proof that the stress of the economy is getting to all of us, quick-serve seafood brand Captain D’s and casual-dining chain Red Lobster are locked in a back-and-forth spat that’s usually reserved for high school cheerleading squads.

Captain D’s kicked off the drama in mid-August by airing television advertisements that featured a spokesman showing Red Lobster diners how much money they could have saved by going to Captain D’s.

“We had a really positive reaction from the ads,” says vice president of marketing for Captain D’s, Sandy Smith. “Our sales have responded favorably, and we’ve gotten a startling number of unsolicited e-mails saying ‘I’ve known that all along.’”

But Red Lobster wasn’t happy and responded with an official cease and desist letter to the company. And, just to get their marketing money’s worth out of the whole ordeal, Captain D’s released the “I Refuse to Cease and Desist” Web site today as a rebuttal.

“We have a lot of respect for Red Lobster on a lot of levels,” Smith says. “But we were trying to find a benchmark because there’s a suspicion about fast-food fish.” More than anything, she says, Captain D’s is excited the 800 lb. gorilla in the seafood segment took notice of what she calls the quick-serve’s “compelling message” in the weak economy.

Before the advertisements began to air, the company discussed the possibility of a Red Lobster backlash. “That is the business world that we operate in today,” Smith says.

As for Red Lobster’s reaction to the Web site, the company plans to “take appropriate action based on the outcome of the ongoing process,” according to a company spokesman. He adds that the company is addressing the issue “through the proper channels.”

Smith maintains, despite the letter from Red Lobster, that Captain D’s has done nothing wrong. “We were just letting real guests tell their stories,” she says. “And it’s obviously a story we believe, but it’s more compelling coming from their mouths.”

--Blair Chancey