Ingenuity comes in all forms for restaurants, as this week’s batch of neck-straining moments attests. The seven-day stretch proved the business has adopted a new form of marketing we’re calling trigger advertising, while a fringe menu trend, a real head-scratcher, went mainstream. Meanwhile, some quick-thinking restaurant employees proved you don’t need a cape to be a verified superhero. And we wonder how the business so readily mastered the double entendre in its celebration of national weed day, aka 4/20.
Party on, Garth, and read what we mean.
1. Trigger advertising, or Google as the new medium
The latest gimmick in restaurant advertising is tricking another medium into doing the shilling. Burger King showed its conversion to the new approach two weeks ago, when a 15-second commercial stirred controversy by triggering the Google Home virtual assistant to read a doctored Wikipedia entry for the Whopper. McDonald’s added considerable topspin this week with a new YouTube video that doesn’t even mention the chain or call it to mind in any way other than sporting the brand’s signature colors.
In the spot, comedienne and TV star Mindy Kaling invites viewers to Google the phrase “that place where Coke tastes so good.”
What initially came up were links to sites focused on McDonald’s. But the notoriety was so intense that links to news reports on the ad now dominate the called-up listing.
2. But there's pushback already
The online community is still deliberating whether the subtle ad is an advance for mankind or the worst blight since taxes. But the heavy club of adverse internet opinion is already falling on Burger King for its trigger ad.
Wikipedians called on fellow editors of the community-generated encyclopedia to add their virtual signatures to an open letter of complaint directed at Burger King. It demands an apology from BK for rewriting the entry to showcase the Whopper’s ingredients, and to pledge compliance with the site’s anti-spin rules.
The call for co-signees noted that some Wikipedia users had already extracted a degree of revenge. Exploiting Wikipedia’s open access to entries, the pranksters had appended the list of Whopper ingredients to include cyanide, rat meat, toenail clippings, “a medium child” and malted milk balls. The general description was extended to include the terms “cancer causing” and “not as good as the Big Mac.”
3. Introducing ‘unicorn food’
If the extent of your coolness is uttering the occasional “23 skidoo!,” chances are high you’re oblivious to the unicorn food craze. In some circles, it’s the biggest thing since the Macarena.
For the uninitiated: Unicorn food is any edible presented in rainbow colors or other connotations of a unicorn. The fairytale hues are usually evoked through the use of natural colorings like beet juice. Shades of pink or blue are common, with lots of sparkles and sprinkles added for extra pizazz. The idea is to evoke the same glee with which an 8-year-old girl squeals at the sight of a My Little Pony, but the targets are adults, not preteens.
Prime examples include rainbow-colored bagels, cupcakes (including a unicorn poop variety), ice creams, hot chocolate, pancakes and doughnuts. Added to the roster this week was a highly visible concoction positioned squarely in the mainstream: the Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino. A white mocha Frappuccino is topped with blueberry flavorings and pink and blue sugar, which Starbucks calls “fairy powders.”
Fortunately, it will only be available for a limited time.
4. Crew members as crime stoppers
The deranged man who murdered a random passerby and posted the incident on Facebook was the subject of a nationwide manhunt that ended with some quick thinking by the crew of a Pennsylvania McDonald’s. In the highly publicized turn of events, the killer, Steve Stephens, was recognized as he waited at the drive-thru for his Chicken McNuggets and french fries. A staffer said the kitchen needed a few minutes to finish cooking the McNuggets, then called the police, who arrived to see Stephens shoot himself to avert capture.
Those heroics were widely covered. But almost unnoticed was another act this week of outstanding restaurant bravery, the rescue of an 11-year-old girl from a registered sex offender who intended to snatch her from the women’s restroom of the Sonny’s BBQ in Brunswick, Ga. The team heard a scream from the bathroom. Not hesitating, two young women from the crew ran into the bathroom, where they found a girl crying that a man was trying to kidnap her.
One of the two crew members, identified in press reports only as Amber because of her age, charged into the men’s room, where the would-be kidnapper was hiding. She dragged him out, and other co-workers surrounded the man while the doors were locked and the police were summoned.
The little girl went home unharmed, and the man went to jail.
5. Freebirds’ Pot Brownie buzz
No, not that kind of buzz. The Freebirds World Burrito chain generated plenty of the marketing sort when it decided to bring back a discontinued dessert, a brownie baked in a tiny pot, for April 20, aka 4/20, the day when marijuana aficionados give a nod of appreciation to the indulgence. Because “Pot Brownie” made such a good sound bite, it was used in media throughout the chain’s markets.
But Freebirds wasn’t the only chain to commemorate 4/20.
Ben & Jerry’s, which has featured a Dave Matthews Band Magic Brownie concoction in the past, showcased a new ice cream novelty called the Chill-aco, an ice cream-filled waffle taco.
Chipotle slyly tweeted, “Sometimes you need a huge bowl to get you through the day,” and Burger King pushed out a video entitled "Secret Stash," which turned out to be two orders of Chicken Fries hidden in a car’s center console.