Mar 05, 2009

Roasted Branding

Sometimes I wonder what some brands are thinking when they introduce a new product.

Recently, Arbys, the reigning roast beef brand leader, introduced its new sandwich line: the Roastburgers. My initial impression was, "Arbys is making burgers now? Not so sure about that one." Then when I went to an Arbys to pick up a roast beef sandwich for my wife, I saw a picture of the Roastburgers. I looked at it. Then I looked at it again more closely to make sure my contacts weren't playing tricks on me.

The Roastburgers, as it turns out, are not really burgers. They are actually roast beef sandwiches. The only "burgery" aspect of them is that they have toppings you'd expect on a hamburger, like tomatoes, red onions, lettuce, bacon, and even special sauce.

Arbys calls Roastburgers "the burger done better." Which is nice except a Roastburger is not, in fact, a burger done better. It is, in fact, a roast beef sandwich who knows somebody.

After discovering the truth about these impostor burgers, I wondered if the Roastburgers couldn't have been marketed in a way that caused less confusion. Wanting more information, I went to the Arbys website. There I learned that the sandwiches are described as being made with "oven roasted roast beef." This made me wonder how exactly Arbys has been roasting the other beef it has been serving up all these years.

Not long after my site visit, I started seeing the Roastburgers TV ads. Let me get this straight. Arbys has been doling our roast beef sandwiches now for decades, but now that they've added tomatoes and onions, we're supposed to believe that this is the moment the burger kings (pun shamelessly intended) have decided to unleash the hounds, actually worried enough about the Roastburger to start flinging all-beef patties around. If you missed it, you can see the commercial on Arbys Facebook Page.

My initial thoughts about all of this were that Arbys, from product naming to product marketing, appears to have misfired on a sandwich that apparently, from what those who have tried it have told me, isn't all that bad. Heck, the more I read about the Roastburgers, the more I thought I actually might want to try one. But maybe that was the point.

Maybe this whole thing was deliberate. Maybe Arbys had a cunning plan to promote the Roastburgers this way. Because if they actually had their traditional brand and positioned the Roastburgers as just fancier roast beef sandwiches, I never would have gotten my Irish up and written about them. I probably wouldn't have noticed them at all. Now I'm actually wondering if this is more a case of Arbys taking its traditional brand positioning and playing off of it than Arbys simply sensationally whiffing on a product introduction. My practical side learns toward the latter. My conspiracy theorist side, however, thinks the former has credibility. My stomach, ever the realist, thinks the Bacon and Bleu Roastburger looks awfully tasty. And sometimes, you just have to go with what your gut is telling you. And mine apparently is thinking Arbys. So it looks like Arbys might have a winner after all.

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