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The Big Brand Theory: Arby’s is Listening



On January 26, 2014, singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams descended upon the Grammys red carpet sporting his Vivienne Westwood Buffalo hat. Arby’s Director of Digital & Social Media, Josh Martin, covering the Grammys from home, heard a lot of people saying the hat looked a lot like Arby’s logo.

Martin shot out a tweet from the Arby’s account.


And then lightning struck. 

Marketing lightning.  Really great marketing lightning.  The celebrity tweeted back!


Martin didn’t admit it, but I’d bet that at that moment he might have started to dance around his living room.  What marketer wouldn’t? After all, by the following day, there had been 75,000 retweets and more than 40,000 favorites – according to Twitter, the most retweeted Tweet of the 2014 Grammys event. Even Pepsi and Hyundai graciously tipped their Twitter hats to the restaurant chain.

ImageI recently sat down with Josh Martin and his colleague Jason Rollins from Arby’s PR department.

Surprisingly, Arby’s social media team is made up of a modest two employees using Netbase to monitor and post. Right next to where the two sit, a glass-walled conference room has been taken over and made into a social media listening room. Several screens show the various social channels in which Arby’s is participating, so that as employees and visitors walk by, they can see what people are saying about the brand in real time.

Martin says, “We get together for big events like the Oscars or the Super Bowl; we invite the teams to come and participate with us as we’re watching and interacting in real time. Everyone from the operations team, customer service to product development; we’re always finding little nuggets and insights about our guests that are talking about our brand that we can take back to our cross functional teams and say ‘here’s what people are saying.'”

Many managers of social media become evangelists for what social media can do for an organization, and often find the task daunting. For Arby’s, this very visible social media listening room has helped speed the adoption of social media by the company. Martin says, “People are coming by and asking more questions and wanting to know more how we can use it, and how we can deliver insights to different groups within the company.”

The engagement with Pharrell Williams went a long way in illustrating the value of social media within the organization. While the tweet and Pharrell’s response might have been a wonderful bit of serendipity helped along by good social listening, Arby’s follow-up was also considered effective.

After the Grammys, Pharrell put the famous hat on auction, with the proceeds being tagged to help his charity, From One Hand To Another. He even tweeted a challenge to Arby’s.


For $ 44,100, Arby’s beat out all of the competing bidders, and purchased the hat.

It might be considered expensive as head gear, but as a marketing/PR opportunity, the brand received a lot of value for the spend:

  • 783 Total Media Placements
  • 507 Broadcast Placements
  • 258 Online Placements
  • 18 Print Placements

Beyond simply being a clever bit of Twitter repartee, Arby’s then integrated the opportunity into an action that humanizes and aligns the brand with caring.

And it all started with listening.

The Big Brand Theory is an exclusive column for Social Media Today that explores the social media strategies of big brands, both B2B and B2C. Look for the next installment next week. Logos by Jesse Wells.

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