Toward the end 2018, Long John Silver’s dove into consumer data. The seafood chain wanted to make sure it was laser focused on the proper guest and understood who its core diner was, as well as identify potential new ones. What it found might seem surprising at first glance, but really didn’t shock Long John Silver’s.
Lent wasn’t the chain’s biggest sales season. That was summer. And yet Long John Silver’s had never tried a major, dedicated marketing push for the season.
Christopher Caudill, the brand’s vice president of marketing, and a lover of all nautical and pirate-themed puns, says the premise added up. “Seafood is something celebrated year-round,” he says, “but specifically in the summer. I think part of that is there are more trips to the lake, more trips to the beach, and all those things associated with that time of the year. And the more we thought about it, there was no reason why we couldn’t celebrate it as well.”
“The more we dug into to this consumer research, there was a bit of an aha moment around what were the reasons why people think so fondly of seafood during those months and how that ties back to nostalgia and growing up, and where they visited and those memories that they have of seafood experience,” he adds.
The goal for Long John Silver’s, with agency Baldwin& directing the creative, was to turn summer into a time worth celebrating like any other holiday. And so “Fishmas in July” was born. The brand teased the campaign with spots in late June and then ignited social media throughout July.
Included was a “Fishmas” album made up of songs from various artists, including the Coral Benders. Naturally, it reimagines Christmas carols with seafood themes, like “We Wish you a Merry Fishmas,” O Come All Ye Fishful,” and “Ole Fish Kringle.”
It all stems from the nostalgia Caudill referenced. He says the brand realized its sales trends weren’t tied so much to times of year, like December, as it was to something deeper and more nostalgic. “That feeling that triggers the seafood move when summers comes,” he says.
Christmas was a great jumping off point. “Just looking at this idea that people anticipate and can’t wait until Christmas arrives. They look forward to it and all the different types of things you can celebrate during that time of year,” Caudill says. “What if seafood had that type of anticipation and longing in those moments of nostalgia and joy that you associate with the holiday season?”
Long John Silver’s carried the sensory touches across different activations. There is swag: Select customers on social media were chosen and surprised with items like Ugly Fishmas Swimmers (bathing suits); Fishmas slippers (flip-flops designed to resemble fish); and Fishmas towels.
The spots themselves feature plenty of what Caudill calls branding “Easter eggs.” Everything from Long John Silver’s tray liners as packaging to seafood-themed decorations.
Caudill says the response has been strong. He references people on social media talking about a song at 5:30 in the morning and their need to visit the restaurant later for dinner.
“There are so many opportunities to just have a lot of fun,” Caudill says. “That’s what people want out of their seafood restaurant experience. People want to have a great time. Restaurants should be fun and we’ve been working diligently to get to a place where we can have fun, be engaging, and build those memories and relationships with our guests.”
Long John Silver’s also brought back a coupon strategy it deployed in March and April with its “Fish, Yeah!” original album of music. It included an audio coupon where customers who played any of the songs in store would get a deal sent to their phones to use immediately at purchase. This time around, there are downloadable Fishmas GIFs, which can be redeemed as coupons when shown in the restaurant for BOGO grilled fish tacos. “We can do it like everybody else does, and like we’ve done in the past, and have a printed coupon we send out or send out an email blast with the coupon,” Caudill says. “But we wanted to have it be more engaging and have it be something unique that people will talk about and have a good time with it.”
The campaign provided another opportunity for Long John Silver’s to diversify its media mix as well. The company, as many brands, has shifted from TV to online video, streaming audio, and paid social in an effort to reach customers on the go.
Caudill says the brand was relatively inactive on social media in 2018. It put the brakes on intentionally so it could get “to a place that we clearly understood our voice and our guest, and had a more consumer-focused view on how we should be interacting and what guests want from our brand,” he says.
Once that strategy matured, Long John Silver’s joined the conversation. “A lot of people love the brand and are already actively talking about it,” Caudill says. “So, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be joining them as well. And then looking at moving some of that media investment away from more traditional media and into social and digital.”
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Even the notion of “TV” has evolved. It’s not restricted to cable. There’s mobile devices, streaming services. “And we need to make sure we are adjusting our mix accordingly to where the customer is today and how they’re actually engaged with the media,” Caudill says.
One more springboard of the campaign provides a call-out chance for Long John Silver’s grilled seafood platform, which launched in May. It’s something customers clamored for, Caudill says. “Having that across tacos and rice bowls and meals has been and will be a game-changer for us,” he says.
At the end of 2018, Long John’s Silver’s had 832 total domestic locations, a decrease of 58 from the prior year, and total U.S. systemwide sales (in millions) of $440.00. Stores were posting $607,000 in average-unit volumes.