December 7, 2020

6 Restaurant Advertising Strategies That Produced the Most Successful Campaigns of 2020

There probably is not another year on record that as many people are this excited to kiss goodbye. 2020, with all its COVID chaos, election mayhem, and economic fallouts, tested us all and pushed our limits. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of advertising, where creative directors and writers the world over were saddled with the seemingly impossible task of bringing light to a heavy, dire, and deadly, situation.

Because lists are a nice, concise way to sum up the year, we decided to put together all our favorite restaurant advertisements for 2020, so here we go!

The Surge of At-Home Dining Kits

Moe’s Southwest Grill

The cantina-eques franchise embraced the surge in at-home dining with its own meal-kit line. In March, during the height of quarantine mandates, the fast-casual restaurant released a taco kit that included everything needed to create tacos at home. The clever marketing and advertising touted, “family time is better with tacos.” In July, the restaurant added fajita and nacho making to its kit offerings.

Moe’s Southwest Grill Moe’s Southwest Grill

Moe’s also leaned into the skyrocketing delivery and curbside pick-up market with a cheeky “Enjoy On Your Couch” campaign that encouraged people to savor the Southwest-inspired menu while comfortable in the living room.

Changing Focus to In-Home Diners

P.F. Chang’s – Targeting In-Home Diners

The Asian-themed bistro didn’t shy away from the changes its customers experienced this year. Instead, it pivoted its entire advertising strategy to focus solely on in-home diners. A series of sensory-stimulating television ads highlighted the restaurant’s most popular dishes while touting its free delivery, curbside pick-up, and grocery store options. It concurrently ran an email marketing campaign reminding members of its loyalty program that they can still experience their favorite PF Chang’s items without leaving their homes.

This campaign works because of its ability to target PF Chang customers from several different angles. First, the vivid shots of Asian cooking go straight to the senses and make viewers salivate while longing for the taste of their favorite PF Chang’s dish. Secondly, it acknowledges the restaurant’s deep ties to cultural cuisine that was born from traditional Asian street food. Lastly, and arguably most important, the campaign recognizes that its target audience consumes food very differently than it did previously. The nod to the various avenues to get PF Chang’s food – delivery, pickup, or in the grocery store – recognizes and respects the worldwide pandemic without centering the campaign on it.

Timely Promotions that Show You Understand Your Customers

Shake Shack – Virtual Summer Camp

Shake Shack, the burger joint that made roadside menus chic enough for urbanites, was forced to shutter nearly half of its dining rooms over the summer of 2020, accounting for a 17% decline in revenue. In an effort to combat the losses incurred by the pandemic restaurant closures while engaging its customer base, Shake Shack released a $79 summer camp activity box for families. The July promotion included six weeks’ worth of fun and free burgers through the brand’s app or website.

The brilliance of this shift in strategy not only comes from its broad targeting of families that were bored during quarantine (who wasn’t?), it’s in Shake Shack’s multi-channel approach. Customers were not only encouraged to buy the activity box, but they also had to follow the burger chain on Instagram to learn how to complete each activity and download the restaurant’s app to capitalize on the free burgers included in the summer camp. The engaging campaign left Shake Shack customers loyal to the chain and seeing it as more than a place to grab burgers and fries.

Recognizing that Context is Key in Advertising

Chipotle – Free Monday Delivery

Free. Fewer words sound so sweet when the economy is in a freefall. Chipotle took advantage of this and turned it into a successful campaign at the height of the COVID quarantine. When the burrito chain had to close most of its dining rooms, and customers were forced to utilize either pickup or delivery, Chipotle targeted customers by waving delivery fees on Mondays.

The campaign worked and continues to work because of its intention of giving customers what they need most during quarantine – access to a sense of normalcy without the price. Chipotle understood that delivery apps were seeing a surge in business – the top four U.S. food delivery apps saw revenue rise some $3 billion collectively in the second and third quarters of 2020 – and all those restaurant-to-home meals came with a delivery fee. Showing customers grace on delivery fees one day a week was a way to show that Chipotle not only understood its customers’ plight but empathized with it. It allowed its customers to taste normalcy without having to pay a premium for it.

Using Ads to Increase Social Capital

Burger King – Stay Home of the Whopper

2020 was time for coach potatoes and homebodies. People who loved staying home really had a banner year. At the height of the pandemic, with quarantine orders in place across the country, millions hunkered down and made the best of it. In March, one survey found that 9 out of 10 Americans were following health professionals’ recommendations and not leaving their houses. Homing in on the pandemic pastime, Burger Kind launched its light-hearted “Stay Home of the Whopper” campaign.

Playing off its famed slogan “Home of the Whopper,” the fast-food chain cleverly added “Stay” at the beginning and voila … a campaign is born. The commercials, featuring pajama-clad people, lying on their couches, phones in-hand – no doubt a familiar scene to most, Burger King was urging people to stay on their couches and order from the app. The announcer likens quarantining to a patriotic duty that Americans have to ensure the health of the nation. Burger King then, in a humbling yet brilliant move, relates itself to its customers in a team-like manner, saying, “do your part, and we’ll do ours.” Essentially telling viewers, “stay home, order through the app, and keep everyone safe.” For Burger King’s end of the bargain, the burger chain is waiving all delivery fees and promising to support health care workers through free food and charitable donations. The campaign was a fun, creative way to make people laugh at their new reality, while reminding everyone of the importance of staying home and, of course, ordering Burger King for delivery.

Multi-Channel Integration of Ad Campaigns

Burger King – Christmas in July

Burger King makes another appearance on this year’s list for its “Christmas in July” campaign. The multi-channel campaign aimed to bring the most wonderful time of year – Christmas – to everyone in the middle of what was a difficult 2020. The restaurant chain not only released commercials and print ads, but it also decked out stores in holiday lights and added a 2-for-$5 “unwrapping deal” that allowed customers to choose two sandwiches that came wrapped in holiday-themed paper.

The integration didn’t stop there either. Burger King took it to all its social media channels and its app. Every touchpoint of the brand was covered with a Christmas theme, despite the calendar reading July. The chain tapped into the collective exhaustion and stress felt by its customers and launched a campaign that combatted the overwhelming negativity surrounding Americans. Picking Christmas as the antidote hit the perfect tone for a nation that was yearning for something to smile about, something to be excited about, and most of all, something that would make it feel happy again. Thanks, Burger King, for giving customers what they needed most over the summer – a reminder that goodwill and cheer are available all year round.

2020 will forever be the 12 months we will all remember with a sense of relief that it’s over and feelings of gratitude for surviving it all. It has been the year of canceled plans, pivoting, ordering in, and staying home. From all that though came some really brilliant advertising that captured the exhaustion everyone felt, pointed out the humor in the unique circumstances, and reminded everyone that one day things will return to normal – whatever that means.