Arby’s has struggled to gain ground in the cutthroat fast food game. McDonald’s is the big dog on the porch, but there are several others that all vie for the money of people who need cheap food fast.
In most cases, Arby’s tended to be pretty far back in the leader pack, landing at 18 of the top 20 according to Business Insider, behind many but ahead of popular household names like Papa John’s and Jack in the Box.
Arby’s had tried a lot to get attention, with advertising that mostly focused on the chains dedication to massive meat sandwiches and leading, at least recently, to the slogan: Arby’s has the meats.” Blunt, but not nearly as catchy as “Where’s the Beef” or “I’m lovin’ it.” Still, Arby’s persisted in trying to win over converts by shopping its “superior” fast food.
Then something somewhat strange happened to Arby’s. Brendan Kelly, ad man and punk rocker, created a fake Twitter account, called “Nihilist Arby’s.” The account started off as a dark parody of the actual Arby’s Twitter account. But, soon enough, Twitter followers made their allegiance known: the Nihilist Arby’s account was really gaining traction.
Content was stark, dark and, to a great many, hilarious. Instead of celebrating food, Nihilist Arby’s encouraged people to cast off their angst, reject all that life was dumping on them and simply drown their sorrows in double beef and curly fries. While the actual Arby’s account had about 400,000 followers, the faux Arby’s account scored much better in engagement.
That’s not to say Arby’s was doing too poorly. The account had responded with spot-on humor to a string of fun jabs poked at them by former Daily Show host Jon Stewart, an ongoing back and forth that caught the interest of the right demographic. But now many in that same demographic were loving what Nihilist Arby’s was dishing up. If actual Arby’s overreacted, the social media consequences could be dire.
Arby’s CEO Paul Brown and his marketing people learned, though a piece in Adweek, that it was Kelly behind the account. Now, they wondered what to do. They knew they couldn’t really stop him because he wasn’t breaking any laws. So, they made the best of it. If he wanted to have a little fun, so would they.
Instead of embracing the meaningless dread of life as promoted by Nihilist Arby’s, the company flew a rep out to meet Kelly … and the rep brought a bag of Arby’s food and a puppy along for the ride. Can anyone feel dread when holding a puppy? Apparently not Kelly. He read the note offered by Arby’s senior VP of communications, Christopher Fuller: “Cheer up buddy. You live in a world with puppies and sandwiches.”
Kelly took it all in fun, later Tweeting a photo of himself with the Arby’s team thanking them for the gesture. These days, Nihilist Arby’s is still going strong … and everyone at Arby’s is happier for it.
Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States.