From Soup to Nuts in Record Time

One of the questions at the top of email marketers’ minds, if my mail is any indication, revolves around timing. When should we send out our campaign? The answer will vary, of course, depending on your business, but there are certain guidelines some businesses try to stick to. For instance, Tuesday and Wednesday mailings tend to generate the best responses for some consumer-oriented businesses.

But sometimes a company doesn’t have the luxury of planning for weeks in advance. Here’s a look at one business that put together a successful campaign, from design to mailing, in about five hours.

Darden Restaurants owns and operates more than 1,100 Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Bahama Breeze, and Smokey Bones restaurants across North America. The Red Lobster chain has a loyalty program, called the Overboard Club, through which more than 80,000 members receive notification about exclusive discounts, menu specials, benefits, updates, promotions, and sweepstakes.

Following the tragedy of September 11, a group of restaurants came up with the National Dine Out for America event, a benefit for victims of the attacks. It was to take place on the one-month anniversary, and Red Lobster decided to participate. The decision to join was made just a few days before October 11.

So the company got cracking on the creative. It came up with a concise email promotion for Overboard Club members that started like this: Dear Overboard Club Member,

By enjoying any meal at any Red Lobster on Thursday, October 11, 2001, you’ll be supporting the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

Every meal you purchase in our restaurants that day benefits relief efforts and the victims and their families affected by the tragic events on September 11. We’re donating 100% of the day’s profits to the Relief Fund as part of the National Dine Out for America project.

In addition to the text, the HTML mailing had a restaurant locator at the top (where recipients input Zip Codes to find the nearest restaurant), a large Dine Out for America logo, the standard unsubscribe message, and more.

Once the company understood the details of the project and had come up with the creative (in a matter of a few hours, says Michael Friedman, the Internet strategy developer for Red Lobster), it was time to consider when to deliver it. Friedman notes that it’s the nature of marketing in general to try to plan well in advance — 12 months, or even 16 to 18 months. But that’s a bit difficult for a seafood restaurant, so the company has had to learn to adapt, putting together campaigns very quickly.

Friedman says there were two schools of thought during this time. Some thought that people were glued to other media. Perhaps they were so busy watching the news on television and listening to reports on the radio, they wouldn’t be paying attention to anything else in the media. The second idea, which might have counterbalanced the first, was that people were concerned. They wanted to help.

So Red Lobster decided to announce its participation in the campaign on October 9, two days before the event, and the team finished the creative just in time. The driving force was email, since there was little time to put together television commercials, online banners, or newspaper advertising. (The campaign was bolstered by last-minute radio ads, however.)

Red Lobster worked with BoldFish, a marketing company that specializes in high-volume outbound messaging, to bring this campaign to life. (I must say that I find it appropriate that a company named Red Lobster would choose to team up with a company whose name is BoldFish!)

The message was sent to the Overboard Club database. Although the company could track open rate, which peaked at about 55 percent, the call to action wasn’t easy to measure immediately (no coupons to cut out, no link to click to buy something), so all management could do was wait and see how customers would respond.

They responded in force.

“We shattered our sales goals from our best years,” Friedman says. All told, Red Lobster donations totaled about $1.5 million from that one event.

Yes, it’s good PR. More important (in my book, anyway), it enabled people to get out and do something in a horrible time. Friedman says it was so successful that the company is putting together other campaigns that would be mailed out even closer to an event, such as a Monday morning blast for a lunch special that day.


Now just a few notes from last week. Thanks to all of you who sent in your translations of the English expression “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I started to respond to readers individually, but I was soon overwhelmed by all the mail. In essence, many languages have expressions that translate directly, including French, Portuguese, Spanish, Finnish, and German. And special thanks to Slava, who wrote this: “There is a proverb in Russian. It can be translated like this: ’It’s better to see it once than to hear about it a hundred times.’”

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