Can the Shark Tank effect drive traffic for an LTO?

Shark Tank, the ABC show in which entrepreneurs pitch their products to investors, has become a hitmaker. The show, based on the international program Dragon’s Den has been airing in the US since 2009. When brands appear on the show, things happen in the marketplace.

For the successful guests, fortunes change visibly. They not only receive investment funding from a famed Shark, but they also earn mentorship and network power – tying into the Shark’s other businesses and processes. These brands tend to blow up in retail. You have no doubt seen clusters of products from the show or even clusters from individual Sharks in retailers like Bed Bath & Beyond, Walgreens and Home Depot.

Even for entrepreneurs who fail to earn a deal, the show has the power to drive interest and sales of the product. Garrett Gee walked away without a deal to fund his app Scan in 2013 but the app became the number one app in the iPhone and Windows app stores due to exposure from the show.

There have been a few dining success stories. Cousins Maine Lobster food trucks earned a deal that has driven their expansion across the country. Grilled Cheese concept Tom & Chee is now in 14 states after earning investment on the show and being featured in updates.

Now, CKE’s Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s are attempting to earn some capital of their own by partnering with the show. In an episode from 2013, Shark Daymond John invested in a patented boneless pork rib product – Bubba’s Boneless Ribs. The product had been featured in several follow up episodes but success was not immediately clear. In a recent episode, the founder and John appeared in a visit to Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s headquarters to finalize a deal to provide the product for the new Baby Back Rib Burger.

The brands have made overt efforts to turn their image away from the sexy girls eating messy burgers. The appearance on Shark Tank is not exactly aligned with the more dramatic efforts the brands have made, but certainly a departure from the bikini era.

The show claims 8-10 million regular viewers, no mean feat in today’s fragmented media environment. CKE reached a group of consumers with information about a product they had been learning about for 4 years to announce their new sandwich. Where the brands may have missed on reaching a mass audience with their recent activation on Twitch, they have capitalized on this loyal audience with a strong product introduction.

There are two related questions. First, who exactly did they reach? Assuming the brands are driving in include a slightly more balanced gender in their new media strategy; they have achieved that. But from an age standpoint, they probably missed their largely young male audience getting a large portion of Gen X and Boomers (gasp) in this Shark Tank play.

Second, will viewers turn out for a sandwich like they have for products like the Scrub Daddy? The top performing products have tended to be no-brainers, like a better sponge or a simpler way to exercise. This burger is far from a no-brainer for average consumers. It will appeal much more to males, and hungry males at that. What is not known is the cost CKE paid for the appearance, if any. Without that data, it is impossible to judge the move.

Time will tell whether the Shark Tank effect can carry an LTO.

Carl’s Jr. is starved for attention

For years, CKE’s Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s brands have been known as much for the models in their ads as for anything they have done in the kitchen. It seems their young, male audience liked the ads quite a bit. Or at least paid attention. The ads aren’t just famous for having slim, carefully lit women in bikinis eating their burgers. They’re also famous for hiring very relevant women in bikinis eating their burgers. Heidi Klum, Paris Hilton and Kate Upton are just a few of the ladies employed by the brand(s) and always at just the right time in their career. They even featured Kim Kardashian in an ad (for salads) earlier in her rise to fame when the audience wasn’t seeing her literally everywhere.

Former CEO Andrew Puzder credits the approach with helping to ‘save the brand.’ But as Carl’s Jr. flags along with most of the industry, the shift is on. The brand is moving on aggressively. They’re using a new cast of characters of their own design to destroy to old elements of the brand, such as “bikinis.”

Commenters held the show hostage until the actor held a shoe on his head

The site on which the video is hosted tells you more about the confusion Carl’s Jr. is facing. Twitch, the extremely popular streaming video site for gamers and other growing niche interests was chosen most likely for the cool factor and separation from Google. As the number of views tells you, this approach is far different from their Superbowl spots. The ongoing fragmentation of TV and media is driving down their ability to reach a large swath of their audience with impact.

This is precisely why many smaller brands have turned to influencers. Influencers are hand-picked to appeal to each of the fragments of the audience that brands were once able to reach with TV every Thursday without fail. People perk up momentarily to hear what an influencer passes through their stream of content about style, food or brands. It’s a way to make a message a bit more attention worthy to a focused group. This is how marketing and advertising is evolving on the internet.

But especially on a channel like Twitch, where content is authentic and rarely staged, it’s not the place to stage a show about blowing up the old brand assets. In fact, the content of the show – actors portraying the titular Carl Jr. and his father Carl Sr. along with a wider cast of characters – is more akin to the kind of creative that would have made sense on TV. But it feels out of place and awkward on Twitch. The viewcount supports that. The top video in the set has under 15,000 views; smaller than the worst TV ad the brand has ever run. And those views are for a video clip in which the commenters held the show hostage until the actor held a shoe on his head.

Curiously, the brand had the formula for the internet age even before Twitch was invented. No, not nearly nude models eating messy fast food. This is not about the oddly sexist content of their past TV ads. But attention hacking with names their audience knew – or certainly found worth Googling – was the formula most brands are embracing online. Carl’s Jr. is pivoting to a branded version of “Arrested Development” for an audience that watches more streaming videogames than long-form television.

Right now, brands are still comparing impressions evenly and feeling that any attention is good attention. Time will tell if the strategy pays off.

Can a Business Be Built on a Single Craving?

The shine is coming off the star that is Fast Casual. With several exceptions, the category has had a rough year plus. This past quarter continued declining category sales overall. After several years of craving creating brands, headlines and growth the narrative has been changing.

Analysts are now looking back to QSR as the best bet for growth. Experts are calling for brands like Jack in the Box to spin off their Fast Casual sub-brands (in this case, Qdoba) because they are creating drag for the higher growth QSR.

Fast Casual brands have been praised for a simplified, focused menu. Under-complicated. Built around a single craving. Think Habit Burger (one of the Fast Casual brands bucking the growth trend). That is a fantastic attribute until it isn’t. One clear difference between FC and QSR brands is veto power. FC brands have menus based on one craving. A great burger. Custom pizza.

Across QSR, brands have built our a strong menu that attracts a core while adding a moat. That moat is the extra items that match the brand expectations but meet a different craving. This stops the veto, which is difficult for a brand like Qdoba with a very simple menu to do. Want a burrito, or something like it? Great, Qdoba works. But if not, the search for the next option begins. The single craving is a double edged sword.

Every new FC brand had a simple description: Chipotle for “insert cuisine here.” There was a novelty for most cuisines, as people flocked to see how pho or Uraguayan food could be presented to guests in an assembly line. But time passed and the unknown became the known. There was nothing new to try and back to Jack in the Box we go. Burgers, chicken, tacos, breakfast. Plenty of options for all.

People are not getting richer so price will matter going into the next 18 months.

Doing the mental math here? The next move for Fast Casuals would naturally be to combat the QSR menu moat by adding items. Not so simple. The expanded menu is just one moat. The second was built-in by Fast Casuals but has been enhanced. Pricing.

Fast Casuals took price as part of a premium positioning to differentiate against the perceived quality gap of QSR from the outset. In many cases, the claim that a tighter focus on a single craving made the price make sense. As in: we use the best ingredients to make the best burritos, sorry it costs a bit more. Now it’s a little hard to go head to head with QSRs and expand the menu to match. Sure, they may offer a more premium product but going head to head gives people a chance to compare price.

People are not getting richer so price will matter going into the next 18 months. Fast Casuals like Blaze can’t expand their menu. They’ll be unable to compete on price against QSRs and against Casual Dining if they try to add premium entrees. The question becomes what can they do to make people crave their food more? If they really wish to expand that craving, they’ll need to bring in new, unique flavors and innovation into their core. Fast Casuals have to go all in on ingredients in both variety and quality. Enhance that single craving and make people see the difference between their offering and QSRs.