A different branding strategy comes together at Applebee's

Applebee's, which positions itself as the neighborhood food joint, is undergoing a rebranding campaign and announcing a new tag line: "Together is good."

Applebee's, which positions itself as the neighborhood food joint, is undergoing a rebranding campaign and announcing a new tag line: "Together is good."

McCann Erickson, the chain's new creative AOR, has helped develop several new brand elements, including an updated logo, new menu design, and fresh uniforms for restaurant associates. Also, the Applebee's logo, now animated and capable of "speaking," will be referred to as the company's "Spokesapple."

"The apple has always been a part of our brand, and now we're giving it a voice," says Laura Tigges, Applebee's senior media relations manager.

On October 9, Applebee's placed a full-page ad in USA Today, directing readers to applebees.com/auditions to see the Spokesapple contenders. Two rounds of auditions were posted before it revealed the winner - Wanda Sykes apple - on October 22.

Why does it matter?

"Our focus is on the context of togetherness - how we bring people together over a meal," Tigges says.
There's no way of telling how successful a rebranding effort will be, but Mark Stevens, CEO of branding agency MSCO and author of Your Marketing Sucks, says all rebranding issues have a 'brandgap'- a gap between what the brand promises and what the brand delivers - that should concern companies.

"Sometimes, the catalyst for rebranding is that it's easier to rebrand than it is to make the food and the service better," says Stevens. "And 'brandgaps' cannot be fixed by new taglines and a new Spokesapple." A rebranding will fail if the company fails to increase its quality of service and/or products. "That's more important to the customer than a new tagline," he adds.

If any major company rebrands, it's going to get media attention. But the attention can turn negative if the company fails to make good on its promises and new branding message.

Five facts:

1 Applebee's leads the casual dining chain industry, an estimated $70 billion category, which includes competitors like Ruby Tuesday and T.G.I. Friday's.

2 Applebee's spends $180 million a year on advertising. New online ads are targeting more social interactive Web sites like Classmates.com, Evite.com, and Reunion.com.

3 Applebee's just recently agreed to be acquired by the IHOP Corp., the pancake house operator, which bought the restaurant chain for $1.9 billion.

4 Technomic's 2007 Top 100 Casual Dining Report found that casual dining restaurants remain the fastest-growing and most prevalent sector among full-service operators.

5 Applebee's tapped McCann Erickson in July after parting ways with previous agency, Draft FCB, in March. Both firms are part of Interpublic Group.


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