When it comes to social relevance, Muench says, brands need to ask if they’re “party-talk worthy.” Is the campaign something a friend at a party would bring up and hold a crowd’s attention with?
“I also look at the difference between social relevance and stunts,” Creed says. “Anyone can do a stunt. But the question is, does the stunt actually help you build sales over night, or drive sales and build the brand over time?”
Remember when Taco Bell “bought” the Liberty Bell on April 1, 1996? The chain purchased full-page advertisements in seven newspapers to announce it acquired and renamed the relic. The Taco Bell Liberty Bell would “still be accessible to the American public for viewing,” the company said at the time. “While some may find this controversial, we hope our move will prompt other corporations to take similar action to do their part to reduce the country’s debt.”
People went a little crazy, to put it mildly. Hundreds of phone calls rained down on the National Park Service. The ad campaign cost about $300,000, according to The Chicago Tribune. But it generated some $25 million worth of advertising, per Taco Bell executives, and sales increased by $600,000 the following day.
“It was an April’s Fool’s joke,” Creed says. “That just goes to demonstrate that people, when you talked about the Liberty Bell stunt, you called it the ‘Taco Bell Liberty Bell stunt’ because you correctly associated it with the brand. And I think that’s the difference.”
Social relevance, essentially, is talk value, Muench chimes in.
“If we sit here and chat about Wendy’s, because they did some crazy thing on Twitter, the likelihood of one of us going to Wendy’s tomorrow just increased,” he says. “Just by the ‘mere mention effect.’”
Muench is referencing a principle that sounds easier at face value than in actual practice. If a marketer can increase people’s discussion about a brand, the guest will be more likely to show up. Good examples of this are IHOP’s decision to “change” its name to IHOb in summer 2018. From the announcement on June 4 through the end of the month, more than 20,000 stories were written about the campaign. It produced north of 36 billion earned media impressions. Social media mentions of IHOP generated potential reach of more than 4 billion people.
And, importantly, IHOP’s burger sales (what the “b” stood for) grew by four times as the chain’s dinner daypart sales mix lifted 200 basis points during the first three weeks of launch.
Another more recent case study is Popeyes’ decision to poke Chick-fil-A with its chicken sandwich launch. No mystery what followed next as the Restaurant Brands International chain ignited a movement that’s blazing still. Popeyes locations average $400,000 more per store than they did pre-chicken sandwich. And to Creed’s point, you can’t talk about the chicken sandwich wars—product launch after product launch—without referencing Popeyes.
“The trick then becomes, are you building a brand that people are going to be happy to belong to that herd of?” Muench says.
In today’s culture, a consumer’s food choice says a lot about them. And that’s no mistake on the part of marketers.
Being vegan or vegetarian is a movement. People who barbecue join social groups with fellow backyard aficionados. Guests who flock to fine-dining relate to the crowd.
“Can you translate these superficial stunts that bring in customers—they absolutely do, by the ‘mere mention’ effect—can you translate that into a more significant brand that has lasting power and will enamor an emerging generation?” Muench says. “That’s really the trick of the whole thing.”
Creed’s definition of a brand: Something “we use to tell the world who we are.”
When you think about the task that way, he adds, and consider what matters to people beyond if they’re hungry or not, it fundamentally changes how you strategize brand creation.
Creed shares a story from early in his career, which he relates in the book’s foreword. In the early 1970s, Creed started out at Unilever, and was given the job of reviving Softly, an Australian washing powder brand.