From Ronald McDonald and his crew to the ever-smiling Big Boy, mascots used to be all the rage in restaurant marketing. Today, however, these characters have largely taken a backseat. While the restaurants that used to use these characters still feature them from time to time–at least to some degree–in their advertising, they don’t as often create ads that center squarely around them. As their diners have matured and restaurant marketing practices have changed, restaurateurs have swapped out reliance on these characters for an enhanced focus on what the customer needs and wants as well as attention to what branding messages customers can receive in the limited amount of time restaurant owners have to send their all-important sales messages.
In the good old days of mascot-represented restaurants, the character was pivotal to the brand. Today, however, this is not so much the case. Because of the fast-paced world in which consumers live, restaurant owners have less time to capture their attention, making it more vital that their branding is simpler and more rapidly displayed. In McDonald’s advertising, for example, Ronald McDonald has almost completely been replaced with the ever-recognizable yellow M over a red background. Establishing a clean, simple, understated brand is the only way to ensure customers have adequate time to receive the brand message when watching fast-paced commercials, driving by billboards or flipping through magazines.
To effectively sell your brand, you must know what your audience wants. Today’s audience isn’t necessarily as interested in forming relationships with these once-representative characters as they were in years past. Restaurant chain McDonald’s, for example, has shifted its focus from producing ads that feature happy Ronald McDonald to creating ones that provide information about the quality and healthiness of their food, as they have found, through carefully conducted market studies, that these issues are more germane to their customers’ wants and needs.
Particularly during times of recession, finding something affordable is of substantially more importance to consumers than a cartoon character mascot. Many restaurant owners have turned their attention to advertising affordability, featuring dollar menus and offering restaurant coupons in proliferation to ensure that customers see their establishments as home to values and places where they can obtain affordable family meals.
Consumers today face a more constant stream of advertising than ever before. Because advertisement is now so ever-present, to get your brand noticed you’ll need a lot more than some smiling faces on a television commercial. Falling back on the old character-driven ad is no longer sufficient. Instead, create a variety of ads and market through an assortment of different media types to ensure maximum reach and effectiveness of your message dissemination.
While a smiling face that represents your restaurant certainly won’t hurt, as the changes in the marketing plans of major restaurant chains have shown, reliance on a character alone is no longer sufficient to survive in this volatile market. As you prepare to market your food brand, follow the leads of industry insiders and focus your attention on the wants and needs of your customers.