Telling Stories About the Fish on Your Plate
A new campaign for a restaurant chain that specializes in seafood is telling customers not only about the meal on their plates but also how it got there.
The campaign centered on story-telling, intended to be more engaging that prosaic product-focused ads, is for Bonefish Grill, which opened its first outlet in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 2000 and has since grown to more than 140 units in 31 states. The chain is owned by OSI Restaurant Partners, which is also the parent of eateries like Outback Steakhouse and Carabba’s Italian Grill.
OSI describes Bonefish Grill as a “polished casual” seafood restaurant, featuring dinner items like Bang Bang Shrimp, Mahi Mahi Piccata, Mussels Josephine, Scampi-Topped Filet Mignon and various wood-grilled fish dishes. The restaurants have dining rooms, open kitchens and large bar areas with community tables; to encourage the casual vibe, reservations are not required and seats are set aside each night for walk-up customers.
The campaign, which carries the theme “Taste the pursuit,” has a budget estimated at $1 million to $2 million. There are television commercials, print advertisements, postcards and other direct mail and Webisodes on the Bonefish Grill Web site.
The campaign is the first work from the new Bonefish Grill agency, Cliff Freeman & Partners in New York, part of MDC Partners. Freeman was hired last September for a new assignment as the Bonefish Grill agency of record, handling tasks like brand strategy, Web development and customer-relationship marketing as well as advertising.
Initiative in New York, part of the Interpublic Group of Companies, is the media agency for Bonefish Grill.
The campaign is starting as the restaurant industry is struggling with a sour economy that threatens to put an end to a love affair of decades between Americans and dining out.
Purveyors of every kind of meal, from fast food to high-end steak dinners, are suffering declining sales as rising gasoline prices and falling home prices force consumers to economize.
“There’s no question the restaurant category is under attack, as are so many of our retailers,” says Rich Turer, vice president for marketing at Bonefish Grill in Tampa, Fla.
“Traffic across the industry is off, depending on the region,” he adds. “We’re feeling more pain in some areas, while some restaurants are up year over year.”
As a result, “we think the time is right” for a new campaign for Bonefish Grill, Mr. Turer says.
“Increasing our awareness is a key opportunity for us,” he adds, because Bonefish Grill is “a brand that gets some of the highest rankings in research in food quality, price/value, atmosphere and likeability.”
Previously, ads for Bonefish Grill were “species-driven,” Mr. Turer says, promoting, say, “a specially topped wolfish” or “Canchito with a Rockefeller topping.” He summarizes that approach as “Here’s this piece of fish; come in today.”
The new tack, centered on telling what Mr. Turer calls “a compelling story” about where and how Bonefish Grill finds its fish, “is just such a natural fit,” he adds, because of the lengths the chain actually goes to obtain its menu items.
“It’s a real story,” Mr. Turer says.
The first wave of ads, which began in February, feted fish from the Caribbean, while the second batch, running this month, is concentrating on the Mediterranean.
The tales are told in a casual, conversational style, as if being shared with a friend over a drink or two. To reinforce that realistic approach, a documentary filmmaker named Rob Devor was hired for the commercials and Webisodes.
“We’ll be bringing it home on ice,” an announcer says in a commercial set in the Caribbean. “That’s what we do.”
In another spot, the announcer describes how Bonefish Grill came to the Caribbean “in search of fish, and whatever else makes the locals so happy.”
“We’re Bonefish Grill,” the spot concludes, “and if it’s something good, we’re bringing it home.”
The headline of a print ad proclaims, “We found the recipes of the Mediterranean locked away in wrinkly safes.”
The text goes on to explain: “You don’t find thousand-year-old recipes on the backs of soup cans. Try again. Try going to the Mediterranean. We found old fishermen who liked to talk. And we listened. And listened.”
And a commercial set in the Mediterranean talks about how much of a “challenge” it is to find the best fish.
“But fishermen don’t come back empty-handed,” the announcer says.
Freeman has considerable experience with restaurant accounts, producing campaigns for well-known brands like Little Caesars, Quiznos and Shoney’s.
And more than two decades ago, Cliff Freeman — the man, that is, not the agency — created the famous “Where’s the beef?” campaign for Wendy’s when he worked at a shop called Dancer Fitzgerald Sample.
The offbeat, even wacky humor that was the trademark of “Where’s the beef?”; the Little Caesars campaign, “Pizza! Pizza!”; “Hmmm. Toasty!” for Quiznos; and other restaurant ads from Freeman is missing from the Bonefish Grill campaign.
“It would have been completely inappropriate,” says Cliff Freeman, chairman and chief creative officer.
“It’s not ‘Where’s the beef?’ or ‘Pizza! Pizza!’” he adds. “I let the reality of the brand determine what needs to be done.”
The story-telling idea for Bonefish Grill — “They will take any trip, at any time, to buy fresh fish,” as Mr. Freeman sums it up -- “was really pretty simple,” he says, “yet ultimately completely differentiating.”
“By telling the stories,” he adds, “people would get an idea of the character of the brand.”
The stories are being expanded online with the Webisodes, which run one to two minutes apiece, two to four times as long as each of the TV commercials.
If customers have “seen the commercials, seen the Webisodes, they have something to talk about with the servers” when they visit the restaurants, Mr. Freeman says.
Now that they have discussed fish from the Caribbean and Mediterranean, the next offerings that the customers and wait staff can chat about in coming months will come from countries like Iceland and Argentina.
“The plan at the end of the year is to do a sort of ‘We travel the world’ synopsis,” Mr. Freeman says, and “highlight the whole gestalt of it.”
Gestalt? Isn’t that the fish served during the Jewish holidays?
gestalt Hide phonetics
noun [C usually singular] SPECIALIZED
something such as a structure or experience which, when considered as a whole, has qualities that are more than the total of all its parts:
This new biography is the first to consider fully the writer's gestalt.
gestalt Hide phonetics
adjective [before noun]
considering or treating what a person experiences and believes as a whole and individual thing:
In gestalt psychology and gestalt psychotherapy, people's thoughts and emotions are seen as complex wholes.
(from Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary)