TGI Friday’s Doubles Down on Facebook Burgers

It took just 11 days for TGI Friday’s to triple its Facebook presence by giving away burgers, adding 655,000 “fans.” But from a marketing perspective, it wasn’t exactly a free lunch.

The burger giveaways in the “#1 Fan, ‘Woody'” campaign were scheduled to end after the initial 500,000 people signed up for a coupon during September. But then a few unexpected things came into play for the brand and its agency, Publicis New York.

During the soft launch beginning on Sept. 2, when only seeded videos at YouTube and the campaign’s Facebook page were in play, the viral took off. More than 50,000 viewers signed up in the first 36 hours. An e-mail campaign was sent out on September 4, before TV ads and online display promos went live right after Labor Day. The 500,000 goal was reached by the following Sunday, Sept. 13.

Lastly, a bit of a backlash ensued on Monday, as viewers who were seeing the ads and then signed up for the free burgers ultimately discovered that they were too late. The fictional character created for the campaign, “Woody,” was taking all kinds of abuse from Facebook “fans.” At that juncture, the branding effect wasn’t what anyone had in mind.

The Facebook update by “Woody” at that time didn’t seem to help matters: “Thanks again for helping me reach 500K! I know you love free stuff from T.G.I. Friday’s, so I’ve gotta tell you about the amazing kick-off party TONIGHT, Mon, Sept. 14. Watch the football games at participating Friday’s at the bar (at 7 PM & 10:15 PM EST) and you and your buds will get 6 FREE WINGS. Score! So check with your local Friday’s to see if they are in the game tonight.”

To paraphrase the posters’ collective response: they were expecting a free burger coupon, not an invitation to get in their cars and drive to a restaurant for hot wings. So with 15- and 30-second national TV spots scheduled on a daily basis for the next two weeks, the brand team put together an online video to announce that burgers would now be free for the first 1 million signups.

Rob Feakins, chief creative officer, Publicis New York, said that his team decided to extend the freebie promotion the day before, on Sunday morning, because of the campaign’s popularity. Still, he didn’t dismiss the negative reaction by “fans” on Monday as a motivation to get the coupons rolling again — pronto. “Woody” reintroduced them on Facebook at 6 p.m., Tuesday.

“[Monday] night, I honestly slept with my Blackberry next to my head and downloaded video cuts at like three in the morning, made comments. We were good to go, showed it to the client at nine in the morning, and then it was in the hands of our legal team for a few hours,” he said. “I have to say the rabble was a sign that maybe we need to act a little faster in these situations and have a little more of a solid game plan. The thing about social media is that when things are going good, you get lucky and can’t really control it. And when things start to go south, you cannot really control it, either.”

TGI Friday’s was already testing iffy social media territory with what’s believed to be one of the first characters created solely for Facebook. Even before the burger giveaway temporarily stopped, Feakins said he had read “fan” comments using expletives about how “marketing and social media shouldn’t mix. But we also hear about what a cool campaign it is. I think the response has been about 90 percent positive. It’s been great.”

The brand is primed to join a handful of mainly fast-food names in the restaurant sector, such as McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and Chick-fil-A, as a brand with more than a million Facebook “fans.” Its retail fan page had 240,000 “fans” on Sept. 1 and has picked up close to 30,000 since.

Combined with the 655,000 “Woody” campaign “fans” — who have also opted in for future e-mail communications — the brand now has a presence with 900,000 consumers on the social media site. And there are still two weeks of ads and 300,000 free burgers to go.

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