Well, not exactly, but bear with me and read on if you don’t mind, because I do have an important point here and I sincerely need your help in figuring out the meaning of this marketing.
It all started over the weekend when I was catching some college football on good old-fashioned network television. I was actually getting ready to head out and was coming out of the shower when I heard the Australian voice from the Outback TV commercials in a very serious tone. This surprised me because the guy is usually full of “We’ll put a shrimp on the bar-bie for ya!” optimism and excitement. I listened as the voice explained that Outback was a proud supporter of the brave men and women who risk our lives to protect our freedom on Veterans Day, November 11. And to show this pride and support the troops, any veterans and active-duty military personnel who visit Outback on this day will receive… a free Bloomin’ Onion (regular price, $6.25)!
Something in my gut didn’t feel good. No, it wasn’t memories of the last time I downed nearly an entire Bloomin’ Onion by myself. Rather, I felt that Outback’s promotion was self-serving and potentially insulting to our military men and women.
Now, I’m a big fan of Marketing with Meaning, as regular readers know. And anytime a brand provides a free product or sample to its customers, there’s a good chance it’s meaningful marketing. Denny’s, for example, earned a rave review in my book for its wildly successful free Grand Slam giveaway after this year’s Super Bowl. Such giveaways grab customers’ attention and hit the “free” value button we all have programmed into our heads, which is especially sensitive in this economy. Such offers bring people who are attracted to the freebie, and they end up spending a lot more on full meals and beverages for themselves and the rest of their family members.
Several other restaurants are also getting in on the free food for veterans act. According to an article in Slashfood, Applebee’s and McCormick & Schmick’s are both providing free entrees, and Krispy Kreme is offering free donuts on Veterans Day. And the benefits are extending beyond casual dining; for example, both Lowe’s and Home Depot are offering 10% discounts to military men and women.
The issue I see is that a free Bloomin’ Onion seems so petty for something as meaningful as military service at a time when we are actively losing men and women amid war. What’s worse is seeing this “offer” plastered across our mass-media TV screens in a blatant attempt to convince the majority, non-military personnel that Outback is doing the right thing for real American heroes. Toss in the odd fact that Outback, which aspires to be an “Australian” steakhouse, is honoring American military personnel.
It just feels to me that military service is far too serious a sacrifice to be linked to free appetizers at a restaurant chain. Let’s compare this to the recent cause-related marketing around National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the pink ribbons that have been everywhere from soup cans to NFL players’ gloves. What if Outback ran commercials that said, in a serious Australian accent:
“You’re a survivor. You’ve beaten breast cancer, and are a hero to us all. So we salute you by offering you a free Bloomin’ Onion.”
Ridiculous, right? Or am I wrong? And how is risking one’s life in military service any less odd to reward with a delicious onion app?
Restaurants such as Outback are well-known for one-time gimmicks to lure people into their restaurants, and as a longtime advertising watcher it made me cringe. On the other hand, I do believe restaurants can win by doing more over a longer term. Serving a full meal or entree, like some of the examples above, is a step in the right direction. I do have to give Outback credit for sending some of its employees to Afghanistan to provide meals to the troops, but this is not mentioned in its mass marketing. I think the company should take a lesson from Golden Corral.
Golden Corral is hosting its 9th annual Military Appreciation dinner on Monday, November 16. The company moved its event to this day because it knows that many people have other plans for the holiday itself. And it is offering complete buffet meals for military visitors. Not only is this a real commitment to the troops, but it’s a better brand fit, as most military men and women are on tight budgets and cannot afford the $100 or more it can cost to visit an Outback with their families. Golden Corral is a budget-friendly brand.
Now, this is one of those blog posts where I have a strong opinion, but I am willing to admit that I could be wrong. It is hard to chastise a company when they are doing something with some kind of customer benefit for an important cause. What do you think?