Guests who walk into the Wetzel’s Pretzels store at Downtown Disney in Anaheim, California, will notice something different about the store. Its digital menuboards quickly switch from product photos and information to short animated films, not unlike the style of old Walt Disney shorts.
All of the menuboards at the Downtown Disney store—one of the chain’s flagship locations—air a series of five one-minute animated films every few minutes throughout the day. In the films, animated baker characters step to the forefront of the menuboard, taking a page out of Willy Wonka’s playbook by leading viewers on a journey through a fictional Wetzel’s Pretzels factory and showing how the featured products—Wetzel Bitz, Wetzel Dogs, Sinful Cinnamon Pretzels, Fresh Lemonade, and Pepperoni Twist Pretzels—are made.
Incorporating video into digital menuboards is relatively new to the industry; Wetzel’s executives believe theirs is the first quick-serve chain to do so. The new initiative was developed by founder Rick Wetzel and CEO Bill Phelps, along with creative agency O’Leary and Partners.
“Most menuboards in the fast-food industry are pretty confusing and pretty boring, so six years ago, we eliminated menuboards and came up with posters with our high-end, great-tasting products and no prices,” Phelps says. After Wetzel’s began using digital menuboards, he says, the executive team realized the boards could be much more interesting and interactive for customers.
“Your menuboard is your marketing piece, and you want to make it an easy thing for customers to purchase your products,” Phelps says. “As a marketing-driven company, [we want the videos to display] a very simple concept: Wetzel’s is a fun place to get fresh, hand-made, great-tasting snacks.”
Executives at Downtown Disney, where the Wetzel’s was the first to roll out the boards in early November, love the concept.
“Wetzel's Pretzels took a unique approach to an industry trend, which helps them deliver an engaging experience that resonates with guests of all ages,” says Todd Bennett, general manager of Downtown Disney, via email. “We’re delighted that Wetzel’s Pretzels chose Downtown Disney in California as the first location to showcase their entertaining digital menus.”
The animated menuboards make guests smile, enhance their experience, and make them want to return, Phelps says. “The last thing we are is boring,” he says. “It’s all about fun.” Customers who have fun interacting with the brand may spend more, as well, he adds. “We had one of the biggest increases we have ever had the week we kicked it off [at Downtown Disney]. I see it as building the brand long-term and encouraging customers to order more of the items that are those upscale items.”
David Kincheloe, president of National Restaurant Consultants (NRC), says the opportunities afforded by digital menuboards present a very effective sales and marketing tool. “It interacts with the guest and gives them something to watch while they are ordering, and allows you to promote whatever product you want to promote,” he says. NRC is working with a soon-to-open pizza restaurant that will feature animated videos on their menuboards, as well.
To produce the animated films, Wetzel’s Pretzel’s partnered with its ad agency, Newport Beach, California–based O’Leary and Partners, which worked with production company ChopShop Entertainment to develop the animated shorts.
The six-month-plus project was not without its complications. Wetzel’s Pretzels stores have three different menuboards that must display the videos as one film.
“The content is very wide, which creates technical and creative challenges. This was a whole new format, which creates some extremely large files, as well,” says Eric Spiegler, executive vice president and managing director at O’Leary and Partners.
However, once technical challenges were worked out, agency executives were able to have fun developing the animated characters and storyline. “The brand tries to be irreverent,” Spiegler says. “We wanted to make it something that when people are standing in line at Wetzel’s, they would want to watch and it would be something different.”
Wetzel’s plans to roll out the video menuboards to all of its stores. They will first be installed in stores that have opened in the last six months, and Phelps expects them to be in all of the chain’s stores within a year.
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