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How humor saved Arby's and bolstered its brand

Category: Finance,Retail

Recording artists Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (L), Pharrell Williams and Thomas Bangalter at the 2014 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Pharrell's hat prompted the famous Arby's tweet:

Mark Davis | Getty Images

Recording artists Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo (L), Pharrell Williams and Thomas Bangalter at the 2014 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Pharrell's hat prompted the famous Arby's tweet: "@Arbys: Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs".

The message — "@Arbys: Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs" — got retweeted some 80,000 times and generated 6,000 new followers for the brand.

"What we learned with the Pharrell hat event was, it was funny because it was Arby's," said Brown. "When we replied to Pharell and we said, 'Hey, can we have our hat back, why was that funny? In a large part why it was funny is because Arby's was the one that did it. It's because we were being authentic; we weren't being defensive, and it's a little bit like at the time like your grandfather doing something fun on social media. And so that's when we said, this is the personality of the brand, and that's what we need to be."

Shortly after, Arby's became the target of countless Jon Stewart jokes while he was host of "The Daily Show." Stewart would quip: "Arby's: for when you're wondering what it tastes like when a cow dies" and "Arby's: the meat that is a dare for your colon."

Brown admitted that a number of franchisees called him up asking what he was going to do about it. "We could have played the corporate defensive, but it wouldn't have been any good, we weren't advertising on the show, so we just said let's just go in the opposite direction: Why don't we cater them, and why don't I send a note saying, 'Hey, we'd love to have an opportunity to introduce you to the food,' and we started catering him more or less every time he started making fun of us."

The strategy worked. Stewart responded with "Arby's: proof Jon Stewart cannot destroy a brand by telling people what's in it."

After almost two years of jokes, Jon Stewart announced his retirement, and Arby's responded in the form of a job offer: "Jon, feel free to reach out to us at career@arbys.com."


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