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Karen and I stayed up way too late watching the Oscars the other night. My eyelids started to droop, then I woke with a start… “What the heck was that!?”

It was a :30 spot for Zaxby’s. Go ahead and watch:

Let’s dissect the ad:

  • Blue-collar couple show bad taste with their cheap paneling, Tiffany lamp, and dismal dinner choice. But that’s the target demographic, so I guess it’s perfect.
  • Guy: “Can’t wait to try these wings.” His wife wife then delivers the line which the entire concept hangs on: “Apparently, the spicy, honey BBQ sauce is so good it will change your life.”
  • They bite into the wings, fantasy lights sparkle, and a boy band appears. Mom is confused: “Our son is in a boy band?” Dad is confused: “We have a son?”
  • Chicken puppet appears in the couple’s living room with an electronic sign. Narrator: “Life changing? Maybe… etc.”

I presented this spot to one of my Brand Story® Workshops (to question the brand positioning). A female participant responded: “I just love that commercial.” When I mentioned it to another friend (female), she replied, “I’ve seen it; it’s very cute.”

Harrumph. I hoped to explain that conceptually, the ad doesn’t even make sense. “The sauce will change your life” (which is a ridiculous notion, as is the idea of having fantasy children). When the announcer explains, “Life changing, maybe…” and the chicken sign flashes “Maybe,” they lost me.

“Maybe?” How’s that for a bold brand message?

Does the ad work? The women who purchase take-out chicken for the family loved boy bands when they were teens, and apparently still do. So, the ad gets their attention.

Watch this other spot as a test: Which drive-thru chicken offers a true brand position?

Now, let’s dissect the second spot:

  • Cow picks up boom box. It’s the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.”
  • Cow walks through town, moving to the beat, passersby take notice. Sign reads, “U EAT CHIKIN, WE FEEL GOOD.”
  • Final tag sells catering.

The music is infectious; the cows are cute. And the melody underscores a 20-year brand position without needing a word: “No Beef.” These cows are happily “stayin’ alive” when you buy Chick fil-A.

“No Beef.” Doesn’t sound like much of a brand position. But when you consider that America’s most beloved sandwich (the burger) will never ever appear on Chick fil-A’s menu, it is a big deal.

Successful brands have brand positions.

  • Jimmy John’s: It’s “Freaky Fast.”
  • North Face: “Expedition Tested.”
  • Zappos: “Powered by Service.”

Years ago, I was helping a fast food chain with their brand strategy. Let’s call the company “Fantastic Wraps.”

“Why is there a Philly Cheese Steak on the menu?” I asked stunned.

“No one else is selling Philly’s in the food court,” the CEO explained. “So, if someone is in the mood for a Philly, we want to capture that business.”

Imagine how that logic would play out around the conference table at a Chick fil-A strategy meeting.

The Zaxby’s spot got you to take notice, but is it building a brand position? Does it hit the Four C’s of branding?

  1. Clarity (Who are you? How are you different? Why does it matter?) — Zaxby’s tag line is”Daringly Zesty,” so let’s assume that’s their brand position — really flavorful chicken.
  2. Character (the feeling a brand projects). — They run silly, goofy TV spots, but the restaurants use very traditional architecture with columns, awnings, and arches.
  3. Consistency (does the message constantly reinforce the brand position?). The spots are always goofy, but the goofiness also disappears from the menu, Web site, and interiors. Compare to Moe’s which has consistent goofiness, aka their Joey Bag of Donuts and Homewrecker burritos.
  4. Customer (is the brand aligned to
    the target customer’s need). I like daringly zestyfood. But is this zesty brand position being communicated to me?

Suppose the Zaxby’s guy bit into his wings and started to salsa dance with his stunned wife — daringly. Ay caramba! At that point, the Zaxby’s brand and “daringly zesty” flavor would be dancing hand-in-hand!

Please enjoy my fantasy of how Zaxby’s could build a viable brand position in the picture below. Holstein  cow versus salsa dancer: Zaxby’s would win.

Bruce Miller consults on Brand Strategy for new, growing and established brands.