Top 10 marketing stories of 2014

Technology and social media fueled many of the year’s marketing successes and missteps at restaurants. A couple of operators, though, found new life in old tricks, doubling down on discounting and resurrecting in-demand LTOs.

1. Olive Garden’s Pasta Pass creates frenzy—and headaches

As a marketing pitch, selling out all 1,000 of its all-you-can-eat passes in under an hour was a clear slam dunk, but quickly online scalpers and left-out fans revealed the drawbacks of too little of a good thing.

2. Fewer LTOs lead to big sales at BK

Just three menu changes—including the reintroduction of Chicken Fries spurred by online demand from millennials—helped push third quarter sales at Burger King to the highest levels in two years.

3. McDonald’s reaches for—and misses—millennials

An attempt to lure young consumers via Instagram backfired, snagging negative comments instead. Such backlash became a regular response to the burger chain’s outreach efforts on other platforms throughout the year.

4. Taco Bell calls its shot in breakfast … and then scores

A sleepy first quarter upped the pressure on Taco Bell’s heavily-hyped new morning menu to give a jolt to sales. In May, the chain declared that raising breakfast’s portion of total unit sales to “mid to high single digits” would signal success. (By the end of Q3, it was celebrating a.m. sales at 6 percent of the daypart mix.)

5. Famous Dave’s abandons discounting, turns to sports …

With CEO Ed Rensi at the helm, Famous Dave’s did more than just revamp its menu and design. It altered its whole marketing approach, turning its back on discounting in favor of new initiatives positioning it as a sports bar.

6. … but others just won’t leave price cutting alone—even as customers prefer quality

Operators, such as TGI Fridays with its $10 bottomless appetizer deal, continued to go back to the discounting well this year in hopes of scooping up more traffic, though all the evidence—and consumers themselves—points to food quality as the proven lure du jour.

7. McDonald’s kicks off ‘happy hour’ promo with Horchata Frappe

The new drink anchored a limited-run happy hour promo at the QSR this summer—just one example of limited-service restaurants using the tactic to drive business during off hours.

8. What operators learned from Dumb Starbucks’ publicity stunt

It began as a parody disguised as an L.A. pop-up and became an overnight sensation with consumers and the media—but this short-lived stunt offered some real-life lessons for restaurateurs.

9. Restaurants take marketing high tech with beacons

Geolocation has been a hot topic at industry events this year, and some operators already are using the technology to boost their loyalty programs’ convenience and cred.

10. Pizza Patron’s aims to turn franchisee beef into “dough”

When franchisees took issue with the suggestive name of its pepperoni pizza LTO, Pizza Patron embraced the riff, poking fun at the controversy in its ads.

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