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Kick-*BEEP* Start to the Summer for T.G.I. Friday’s – Good PR Move?

July 24, 2009

I never do two posts in one day, but this one is itching to be written.

T.G.I. Fridays has a new promotion out: BYOB Summer (Bring Your Own Buddies.) You can read it here. In the lead sentence, they used the word “kick-ass.”

No, I’m not joking, PR pros. So here’s my take on pros and cons.

133445Pros:

1. The title of the promotion is BYOB. Now, what comes to mind is ‘Bring Your Own Beer’ which might warrant the word choice. It’s looking at the after work bar crowd who will bring big groups of people to Happy Hour.

2. The target audience seems to one of an older crowd, especially because they promote their new drinks in it. So is it a successfully crafted pitch? They use words – and mentions of social networks – that will probably attract the 21+ audience. Those of us that have been chatting about it on Twitter are already causing buzz.

Cons:

1. TGI Friday’s has always been a family-friendly restaurant to me. Are they going against their brand? Will they be able to go back to the other perception?

2. Cussing in press releasesΒ  isn’t standard.Β  How will the media perceive this if they receive it in their inbox? I ran it past both seasoned reporters and newbies, and most said the same thing: ‘It grabbed our attention, but we don’t know how professional it is to use that.’

So, let’s discuss. Bold move or Bad choice?

*Image Copyright of T.G.I. Fridays.

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41 Comments leave one →
  1. July 24, 2009 11:39 am

    Honestly, I like it. This ties in to the whole professional vs personal conversation that we’ve been having.

    This is just yet another example of a brand embracing the shift in how businesses are communicating. Cussing was never used in press releases…but shorts and flip flops never used to be worn in a “professional office”.

    Cussing is raw, it’s human (for many) and I think it really shows that Friday’s isn’t afraid to show a little personality. I think this will really resonate with the 21+ crowd that this is clearly targeting.

    Maybe they’re shifting away from the “family” image. Maybe they’re trying to appeal to both? Is it not reasonable for them to target multiple markets?

    Honestly the thing that didn’t sit quite right with me was how they kind of indirectly tried to force the “buzz” words in there trying to get us to talk about them on twitter, etc. You shouldn’t have to ask people to talk about you. Give them something to talk about and they will.

    k I’ll stop now. (=

    @DavidSpinks

  2. July 24, 2009 11:42 am

    D – I really like the point of trying to force buzz words. Do you think they have a grasp on social networking yet? Did you get that perception?

    I’m not sure if they are trying to appeal to multiple markets. Maybe it’s to try to change their image?

    I personally don’t like the language. Jamie Mitcham made a great point when she said she would expect that from a Hooters release. That’s their atmosphere. I would expect it from an edgy bar or rock concert. Fridays? I don’t know.

    I’m interested to see how this will play out over social media.

  3. July 24, 2009 11:44 am

    I actually don’t think it is *that* bold of a move nor do I think their brand will take a hit a few reasons:

    * It’s summer time and one could argue a more relaxed, easy-going feel is nothing new;

    * I don’t think the general population (read: their restaurant-going target audience) has this on their radar so they likely wouldn’t be offended; and

    * It stands to reason that it would take a media outlet making an it an issue or calling it into question on a professional level.

    Just some thoughts. Yet another good question, Lauren.

  4. July 24, 2009 11:45 am

    Is “kick-ass” cussing? Or is it no different from “the bomb”? I’ve never really associated “ass” with cussing. Anyhoo…

    I’m with David. News releases are subjective and about the story. If TGIF are going after a certain audience, then the terminology needs to suit (may be overkill with some buzz words, but still).

    I’m a fan of companies that use different styles of releases for different mediums – maybe TGIF are doing this? While I couldn’t see this going down too well at AP, it’s geared perfectly for the social crowd. So, job done.

    Of course, I could be way off here, so just ignore and read the next comment πŸ˜‰

  5. July 24, 2009 11:50 am

    Richie – That was why I couldn’t decide one way or the other. Their approach and subject matter was laid back and easy going. To me, though… cussing has always been a big deal. Media, in general, used to beep out every word known to man. Have they relaxed? Yes. I just don’t know if a press release was the proper medium.

    Maybe on in-store promos, social networks, etc…. but I don’t know if this went out to any SM.

    Danny – I took it as such. But it doesn’t mean I haven’t said it in my personal life. πŸ™‚ I do agree with you and David about the target audience – if that’s what the market is, that’s what you do. Like I said in my morning blog post, you can’t be afraid of change. I just wonder if it was too bold since I don’t know how media would react.

  6. teresabasich permalink
    July 24, 2009 11:55 am

    Initially, I’m not in love with it. But, it does add a more human element to the campaign. David asked the right question, are they trying to shift away from their family image into a more adult market?

    Is it the smartest move to talk like that to your colleagues? Maybe not yet. But, as you’ve mentioned before, the lines of professionalism are becoming more and more blurry, leaving a lot of these nitty gritty details open for interpretation. While I wouldn’t use kick-ass in a press release, I’m sure we’ll start to see more of it as the lines continue to blur.

    Bold move, BUT possibly also a bad choice..

  7. July 24, 2009 12:03 pm

    Just an addendum – it’s funny, but in the UK, TGIF is seen as anything BUT a family restaurant bar. Instead, it’s where suits go to get drunk after work. Go figure… πŸ˜‰

  8. Jenna permalink
    July 24, 2009 12:25 pm

    I agree with you, Lauren. I think using a cuss word in a promotion title is absurd, ESPECIALLY when it’s coming from T.G.I. Fridays…a family-friendly restaurant. Also, it would be much more understandable/appropriate if the promo was for a bar, but a family-friendly restaurant….negative.

  9. July 24, 2009 12:25 pm

    I’m not sure the target audience of the promotion matters so much in regard to the cussing – I mean sure they are related but it’s the media that sees releases. TGIF is a big enough brand name to attract it’s own attention, so maybe this is a desperate move in a desperate economy? Or a shift toward edgier promotion? PR in general is shifting to more conversational and I’d say the restaurant industry can get away with cussing more than most.

    I’d vote it’s a toss up. Would I have done it? Probably not.

    • July 24, 2009 12:28 pm

      Abby – That made me think. Media does see releases, but do you think it will go viral in the SM sphere like they wanted it to? I saw it as an attention-grabber – and I know it’s being circulated around a huge national restaurant company as a ‘WHOA! Cussing in PR?!’

      Thanks, Jenna. I definitely agree with the perception of TGI Fridays. I had a friend make an interesting point, though – in the South, that’s how it’s regarded, but up North, it’s much more of a bar place. Maybe regional targeting would have been better? I was just really turned off by the word choice.

  10. July 24, 2009 12:39 pm

    A year ago, I would have said “Bad Move” but now I’m much more inclined to think that this type of maneuver is much more acceptable, if not necessary. With the (print) media shrinking, PR pros have to get more creative than ever – when pitching a story about texting, use text lingo in the pitch, when pitching a story about drinking – B.Y.O.B & Kick Ass seem apropos and will attract attention among a dwindling population of reporters who are all sifting through thousands of emails for the most compelling story. So being bold and brash, even if it’s risky, is probably the smart move at this point in time.

    • July 24, 2009 1:01 pm

      I get the creative part, D – but it was a traditional platform. I think I would have received it better if it was on PitchEngine or another SM platform site. But I do think that we have to take chances and tie in to whatever we can – otherwise we get left in the dust. Thanks for the insightful comment!

  11. July 24, 2009 1:19 pm

    I agree with Ritchie. It is on the unprofessional side, but it’s really not all that bold.

    TGIF is a bar. In my area, it’s better know for its drink mixers than for the restaurants. And, this promo is obviously geared to an adult audience, so the language is not that strong. It’s not like they used the F word.

    The point of a lead is to get attention, and it obviously got ours. I think it’ll be far more interesting to see how the social media strategy plays out, if at all.

    • July 24, 2009 1:23 pm

      Bonnie – I’m interested in that as well. Although, I am proving them successful by blogging about it, right? πŸ™‚

  12. July 24, 2009 1:41 pm

    Personally, I love it. I must admit, I live in Las Vegas and we can be a little more risque here than in some places, depending on the job. Even still – I agree with BonnieAnn: TGIF is a bar. People drink, cuss at sports games, tell dirty jokes, hit on single men/women, and cut loose.

    That said, “Kick-ass” is pretty tame for this demographic. And if the kids catch on and get a chuckle – so be it. Nothing they don’t hear in the hallway or the playground at school. Sorry mom.

    TGIF probably weighed the risk/reward and ran with it. Here’s proof that it’s rewarding. Free advertising!

    • July 24, 2009 1:42 pm

      It’s so different to hear that TGIF is a ‘bar’ in most places – in the South, it’s a family-friendly restaurant. It’s on par with Applebee’s and Chili’s. I think, from this point, regional marketing would have been best.

  13. July 24, 2009 1:48 pm

    What an interesting question to ask Lauren. The whole release just begs the question of why they used it in the first place. Like you, I suspect for this very reason, so they’d move the chatter meter on social media channels. Does it change my perception of the brand? Not really. It does make me question their PR team and if the college newbie wrote this and the more seasoned PR pros just went along. While I’m not a fan of using that language in a formal press release, I think it fine in a pitch, if it fits the vibe of the outlet and you have the relationship with the reporter.

    Bigger questions: Will it make media pay attention and will it get consumers to BYOB to TGI Fridays because they used the phrase? Let’s see. I think brands need to be wary of the ‘one-time’ splash tactics (see Skittles or Denny’s or KFC) and focus on layered efforts to results in the short and long-term.

    I can’t imagine that we’re going to see the case study from the TGI Friday’s PR team on Cussing is the New Attention Trick for Short Term Success. But I could be proven wrong.

  14. July 24, 2009 1:53 pm

    The name TGI Friday’s is, itself, a questionable turn of phrase to many. What do you think the ‘G’ stands for?

  15. July 24, 2009 2:38 pm

    True. Obviously if we can see the release others can too. But are non-PR people going around checking out other companies releases? Honestly?

  16. July 24, 2009 3:49 pm

    I stopped after the second paragraph. Not because I was offended, but because I found it tacky and cheesy.

    I agree with Danny B, the way they used it – IMO – wasn’t in a cussing fashion. Had they said “this promotion is going to kick ass” that would be completely different from the way they used it.

    Overall, I think this release wasn’t catchy at all. If I were a reporter, it would have went into my trash. As a PR person, I think it’s poorly written.

    David mentioned the buzz words – they’re trying too hard. Guess what, I won’t be texting, instant messaging or talking about it on Twitter.

    To me, it comes off as an out of touch & older parent trying to be hip around their children. #FAIL

  17. Kyle Johnson permalink
    July 24, 2009 6:16 pm

    First of all, GREAT BLOG!

    As for TGIF, I think it can be related to the post from earlier today about not being afraid to switch things up in the PR world. Like D Brown said, saying kick-ass is virtually the same as “the bomb” these days, but only to the 21+ crowd, leaving enough evidence for me to believe that Fridays is trying to shift their market a bit, or add one in at least.

    There’s that evidence, and the fact that in my home town, Fridays actually stays open later than all but one or two bars, giving it a pretty consistent night crowd.

    I guess when it gets down to it though, they are either flirting with a (light) grey area or simply refusing to be a naysayer… like I said, I think the two most recent posts are tied together on this.

    • July 24, 2009 6:22 pm

      Kyle – Thanks for the great compliment on my blog. πŸ™‚

      Ive had a weird feeling in my gut that by my leaning toward it being a bad idea to use the verbage, I was going against my morning post. Are there different levels of naysayers? I want to know where the line is between change and doing something that is a hit against your brand. Is it a judgement call? My head says yes.

      You’ve got me thinking! πŸ™‚

  18. July 25, 2009 1:50 pm

    While, I do get slightly sailor-esque on my own blog — with “ass” turning into “@$$” — the bottom line is that it is my BLOG.

    Would I ever do that if I owned a PR company, or a business, or put it into an AD campaign?

    NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT…unless I was a porn video company or something.

    Bottom line — it shouldn’t have been done. Especially, since TGI Friday’s is a family oriented company.

    If they would like to change that — then by all means.

    But until that time — this is a major PR FAIL.

  19. Kyle Johnson permalink
    July 25, 2009 4:47 pm

    Could be a judgement call, but to me, any place that has a liquor license and a rull room bar has a lot more wiggle room with things like that. The bar market is saturated with fish that all swim the same way. I think it’s a good move to be willing to show some balls (kind of) in a setting like that.

    I say “kind of” because no else has made a huge deal out of it in the other conversations I’m in about PR. So it obviously hasn’t made that big of a splash.

    I don’t get how people are calling Fridays a family restaurant. Other than Saturdays from noon to 3pm, TGIF is not as much of a family-oriented company as people think these days.

    Something off topic: I just saw an Eclipse gum commercial where a guy was walking around giving pieces of gum out to random people and acting as though his offer was a friend request and them accepting his gum was the same as accepting his friendship… sound familiar? How do companies which have nothing to do with social media get away with playing off of it like that? Seems desperate to me. ITS JUST GUM

  20. July 26, 2009 4:35 pm

    Kyle – Ever been to the South? Restaurants are viewed in a completely different light here. Much of the North Texas area is a dry county, which means you have to drive forever to even buy liquor. We have unicards for when we purchase a drink at a restaurant. It’s unreal compared to the East coast.

  21. July 27, 2009 5:29 am

    Hiya Lauren! I’m with Danny on this one, I think. I think that, given the overall tenor of the ads, their use of “kick ass” works. And I submit that “ass” has become a socially-acceptable term over the past few years; it’s gotten to be one of those words that, for the most part, has little or no shock value left in it (whether that’s good or bad is a subject for another day). Friday’s has, for me, long been estranged from any image they’d ever put forth as being a “family” restaurant. All of their campaigns in recent years show 20-somethings canoodling over appetizers, Guy Fieri schilling their Jack Daniels BBQ, etc. For me, their brand image speaks of a place where people go to hang out, have drinks and possibly get the phone number of the pretty girl on the other side of the bar. The kick ass thing is kind of in keeping with that, I think.

  22. Sonja Morgan permalink
    July 27, 2009 10:09 am

    I don’t see the issue. When I read your article and saw “cussing” I thought of something much different. If they can say it on TV or radio then I don’t view it as “cussing.” And if they are trying to project a family image, I have missed it. I agree with Melissa above.

  23. Alexsandra TYhompson permalink
    July 27, 2009 10:21 am

    WWhile I’m surprised, just think about some of the commercials TGIF has aired in the past.

    The one that comes to mind is a table full of jocks with dumb looks on their faces. You think they are looking at the girls walking by, but it’s the food coming out from the kitchen the ‘boys’ are salivating over. That tells you what audience TGIF is pursuing.

    Also, I recall a commercial a couple of years ago saying something about a ‘big old can of ‘whoop-ass’.’ Can’t recall the product, but the actor who said ‘whoop-ass’ had a Southern accent and the remark didn’t seem out of place in that context.

    Media has come a long way. We don’t hear the F-word on TV (yet), but we hear all about the birth control pill, pregnancy tests, diarrhea (that guy in the hot tub is WAY more disgusting than any swear word) and other things that were taboo on TV or radio less than 30 years ago.

    FWIW

  24. July 27, 2009 10:45 am

    It’s bold. It grabs attention. It’s not to be used all of the time (think of a sentence or a story written all in bold – the emphasis no longer stands out).

    Bold flavors. Bold experience. TGI Fridays.

    It works for me. This time.

  25. Joel Hoshkins permalink
    July 27, 2009 10:47 am

    Here’s one way to look at it, Lauren. I actually go to TGI Friday’s and imbibe copious amounts of alcohol at their bar. Their happy hour prices are markedly low when compared to other casual dining restaurant chains of the same type, plus they have early night (5-7 p.m.) and late night (9-11 p.m.) happy hours.

    Being the PR lush that I am (one who also curses frequently, to the point of not even considering ass a curse word), I think the measure of success is in where you spend your own money, and by that measure I’d call TGI Friday’s campaign a success.

    And to slightly disagree with your Con point #1, if one familiarizes themself with their menu and Web site, one will see that the use of informal language and vernacular is quite common. I think this is a bit of a rebranding they’ve been slowly building on for a while now.

    So ass or no ass, you’ll find me at the bar in one of the Houston-area locations once or twice a week. I’m the guy hollering. πŸ˜‰

  26. July 27, 2009 10:56 am

    I’m with you on the cursing, Joel – in my own time. I don’t know if I would do it in a press release. Standards are changing, and what used to be censored isn’t anymore. I think you have to evaluate your audience and figure out how well it will go over. If this was for social networking only, I could see it. I’m not sure how old-school media would react – especially those that still liked to be pitched by fax or phone, rather than e-mail than phone follow-up.

    The tone they used is great and in line with their branding – I just wonder if the choice words were a bad one. Maybe it’s a personal preference – what you believe to be a cuss word and what isn’t.

    Thanks for reading!

  27. July 27, 2009 11:04 am

    I never thought at the age of 28 I would be referring to self as “old school,” but I have to say that cussing in a release is not cool. Whether customers read or not, this is the company public image on the line. OK, a news release will not break them, but it sets the stage for a slippery slope.

    For goodness sake, I was already in shock over their new radio advertisements where they refer to God…Yes, it is TGIF and maybe they have referenced before and I missed, but I would think that would be an offensive factor…

    Oh no, I am turning into my mother.

  28. July 27, 2009 11:35 am

    Who reads press releases anyway?! I kid!

    Hmmm, I think “kick-ass” is common place these days. In fact, right after I read your post Lauren, I saw a Stream Send ad that said:

    “We believe… Batman could kick Superman’s ass any day.”

    I take more offense to the fact that they think Batman could actually do that! πŸ˜‰

    Seriously though, the above statment had nothing to do with the ad or the content of the ad. Just like stating you have a “kick-ass” promotion has nothing to do with the promotion. It might be “kick-ass” in your mind, but how do they know we’ll think of it that way?

    It’s all about hype and cutting through the clutter. Is it risky? Not in marketing…but perhaps for PR. I like that they took the risk.

    If TGIF is running an integrated campaign (targeting the happy hour crowd), I give kudos to the PR folks for taking the integration all the way! (A huge assumption on my part, of course).

    Beth Harte
    Community Manager, MarketingProfs
    @bethharte

    • July 27, 2009 11:46 am

      But Beth…. I’m a Batman fan! Totally plausible. πŸ™‚

      I did like your point about they might think that, but we might not feel that way. I got that impression throughout the release – that they were telling us how to feel. “You’ll talk about this on all of your social networks…..”

      Well, I am talking about it on my blog. But you get my drift.

      Thanks for commenting – you’re always insightful and make me think.

  29. July 27, 2009 12:45 pm

    I must admit my first instinct was “bad move…a bad taste violation.” but after reading all your comments, especially the first one from David Spinks, I changed my mind. These are different times with different taste boundaries — and a younger, hipper, more daring target audience. My professional PR view: If TGIF filled every release with questionable language (and a– really isn’t THAT bad), then i’d feel differently. But this was clearly an attention-getting device that worked,at least the first time. Once is probably enough. If they use it (or other questionable usage) on a repeated basis, then that crosses the line. These days, you have to be daring. It sure caught got our attention. It’s a juicy topic …i had to laugh, tho, that MENSA actually employs a national marketing director! I’d like to see the app for THAT job!
    John Freeman

    • July 27, 2009 12:48 pm

      John – I had those thoughts too.

      Well, my boss is an extremely savvy individual (the marketing and communications director) and she does a lot! She handles all advertising, marketing, licensing and publication of our monthly magazine. She oversees two depts. (me = marketing/PR and Editor, Graphic Designer = comm.) The application is just like a regular one, I promise.

      As National Office staff, we aren’t allowed to be members. I can assure you, that we are extremely busy and it’s never a dull day in PR! Take when 60 Minutes came to our national convention in 2008, or the Good Morning America/NPR pieces – it’s a big job. πŸ™‚

  30. July 27, 2009 12:55 pm

    Great post, as always!

    I think TGI Friday’s WAS family-friendly in the 1990s. However, if you look at their restaurants and menu over the past 5-7 years, it has definitely worked to become more of a bar/hangout. They have an entire section of their menu inspired by Jack Daniels!

    If their goal is to continue to shed that image and cater to the 21-44 demo (predominantly male, given their menu offerings), then this was bold.

    I don’t think I personally would recommend doing it, but in a crowded marketplace (can you really tell the difference between Friday’s, Ruby Tuesday and Applebees??) it was a move that separates them from their immediate competition.

  31. Ellen permalink
    July 27, 2009 1:15 pm

    If this were strictly a pitch, and I was a reporter on the receiving end, I would not be bothered by the word “kickass.” In fact, if my local Fridays’ was my client, I’d even send it to one paper like that, because of the 18-25 demographics that newspaper caters to.

    But to the rest of the media, I would not. It’s not appropriate for a media outlet serving everyone from kids to senior citizens. And since it’s a “press release,” not a pitch, it can go anywhere word for word, or somebody can take it and make fun of Fridays’ for using the word “kickass.” Either way, it’s not going to create an overall favorable impression IMHO.

    • July 27, 2009 1:17 pm

      Ellen – That was my thought. I could see it in a pitch to alternative weeklies, or papers that specifically cater to that market – even social media networks. However, it looks like it went over the wire like that. That means any outlet could see it. When I ran it past some major newspaper editor friends, they cringed and laughed.

  32. "Anonymous in DC" permalink
    July 27, 2009 2:14 pm

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    Therein lies the danger.

    If I were counseling TGIF, my benchmark for appropriateness would be quite simple: Is this language that any TGIF server could use with ANY customer?

    If the answer is an unequivocal “maybe,” I’d be uneasy about using it in a press release.

    OTOH, if this is indeed a subtle shift in their branding, then all bets are off.

    The bottom line: If TGIF wants to continue being all things to all people, then yes, it should watch its language.

  33. July 27, 2009 7:44 pm

    Would you be talking about the press release if they did not say “ass?”

    Probably not. Plus, I doubt people read much into their drink specials and such but they did grab your attention for a short moment of time. Which lead you to write about it and then wind up giving them more attention.

    I personally would never think to put cussing words in a press release but they are trying to be bold and if you are out with your buddies… words like those come up around a bonfire.

    So I guess it worked to grab your attention.

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