Applebee’s: Facebook Bested Other Digital Ads

applebeesad1During an integrated campaign last year, Applebee’s Facebook ads outperformed other paid digital promotions in terms of return on investment, the brand tells ClickZ News. And what it soaked up about Facebook marketing in 2011 has already created a wave of success this year.

The restaurant chain picked up 70,000 fans/likes while running ads on the social media site last week. Currently with a Facebook audience of 1.7 million, the company views the platform as a formidable advertising channel that supports broadcast media buys and other digital promotions.

“We’ve seen that [Facebook ads are] a great way to supplement the reach of television,” said Bill Leibengood, executive director of national marketing at Applebee’s. “As importantly, it really gives us the opportunity to build engagement around those messages and target specific customer segments.”

Leibengood discussed with ClickZ some of the results his team, which includes social agency Expion, has seen with Facebook ads. He specifically pointed to stats from 2011 Q1, when the Kansas City, MO-based company ran a mixed series of Facebook premium and marketplace ads for a campaign dubbed “Under 550”. The effort involved a handful of creative differentiations and was designed to drive awareness for Applebee’s low-calorie entrees. It helped the brand achieve a 3 percent lift in revenue for the quarter.

“We did see that translate into incremental sales, which was fantastic,” Leibengood explained. “We don’t attribute all of that to Facebook; it involved an integrated plan with a good message. But what we did with Facebook had a role in getting that message out there. You saw that all play out with the various ROI numbers from the different channels.”

He said Applebee’s Facebook ads outperformed other paid digital promotions, achieving a 3X ROI. A poll ad stint in particular increased the brand awareness of “Under 550” significantly, he said, while bringing in 29,000 responses. It asked viewers how they would exercise to burn off 550 calories, offering them a selection of three answers.

Facebook’s metrics – such as fans/likes and “talking about this” – complement other digital ad data when analyzing integrated campaigns, Leibengood said. “We are constantly looking at the relationship between the two [kinds of data],” he added.

The marketing director budged little when pressed about whether Apple’s Facebook ads budget would noticeably increase in 2012. “I will tell you that it generated a good return on investment last year,” he said, “and that informs us about what we do going forward.”

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