How Arby's doubled its Facebook shares by playing with gamers

Agency Roar helps produce elaborate cardboard constructions that surprise and delight the niche audience.

Check out any one of Arby’s social media posts, and you’ll likely find comments from people praising the brand’s creativity and sense of humor. But they aren’t referring to the 53-year-old company’s signature roast beef sandwiches. They are cheering for the social content itself.

"I’ve never eaten at Arby’s, but this is making me want to go."

"I know what I’m having for lunch today."

"Give the guy who runs your social media team a raise"

"Haha! I love the Zelda reference. I miss you guys in Grass Valley, CA. You’re a Starbucks now."

It wasn’t always so. For most of its life online, Arby’s had used its social media feeds to showcase new menu items. But about a year and a half ago, the company switched up its strategy to try targeting niche audiences that overlap with its core customers.

"Our strategy really involves identifying the niche areas of interest like gaming, hunting, golf that we think resonates well with our audience," said Josh Martin, senior director of the brand’s three-person social media team. "We try to just create content that we think will resonate with that audience."

Though Arby’s has found luck with all those niche groups, none has reacted as enthusiastically as the gamer crowd. And it all started with a single Tweet referencing the game Zelda that was posted in September 2015.

It was a massive and instant hit. Not only did it receive far more likes and shares than the brand’s typical Twitter posts, consumers started mentioning the photo on Arby’s other social posts. "That’s when we knew we had something," said Martin.

"We're not trying to sell anybody on any product in our social advertising anymore," said Martin. "We're just trying to engage and build that kind of brand love on the platform."

Since the change, Arby’s, which has 3,300 stores across the U.S., has generated a 13 percent lift in overall brand discussion on social. Although Arby’s maintains Twitter and Instagram feeds, Facebook—where the brand has nearly three million likes—is its "bread and butter," said Martin. And with the change on Facebook, it saw double the number of shares, 80 percent more comments and 23 percent more likes. Over the past year, the number of gaming mentions grow by 2,292 percent.

As one commenter wrote, "Is it kind of weird that after years of hating Arby's, seeing these little things relating to video games got me to eat them again?"

"We’re speaking their language," said Martin.

Most of the time, Arby’s alludes to popular video games such as "The Legend of Zelda" or "Elder Scrolls," and sometimes indie games, by crafting characters, symbols or objects out of its own cardboard packaging. The team then takes these creations and pairs them with a menu item in photos, videos and gifs. Other times, the team uses ketchup packets to draw them.

Consumers, said Martin, won’t give the time of day to boring, bland brand posts. "When somebody's scrolling through their News Feed," said Martin, "we're competing with pictures of their friends."

The often-elaborate constructions are all made by Roar, a Publicis Groupe digital agency. Martin and his team meet with Roar once a month to conceptualize posts for the upcoming month, usually timing posts to game releases or gaming anniversaries. For instance, for the 15th anniversary of Xbox and Halo, Arby’s posted this:

"We try to connect to their passion points," said Martin, "We’re fans of those things, too."

The brand and agency can turn around most posts in two to three hours, said Martin. Speed is very important when it comes to these type of posts in order to hit on trending topics, he said.  For example, this Nintendo Switch post was posted while Nintendo was trending on Twitter, the day after it debuted the product. And when Pokemon Go achieved overnight popularity last July, Martin’s team reacted within the first couple days the app went viral, sharing a Facebook photo of a red cardboard symbol of Mystic, one of the game’s teams. The post is one the brand’s most liked and shared—it got 141,00 reactions, 46,269 shares and 13,000 comments.  

But there are also projects that take the team 30 or 40 hours to produce. For instance, last December, Arby’s team spent a week creating a gif of a ship sailing, like one from the game series "One Piece," through a sea of curly fries. The post got 760,000 video views, 29,000 reactions, 12,804 shares and 4,300 comments.

Today, for every post Arby’s puts up, it gets 40 to 50 suggestions from fans asking the brand to post about different games, according to Martin. The team takes these requests seriously, and frequently fulfills the most popular ones. Aside from gaming content, the team has generated high engagement from using Facebook Live to create the models people ask for in real time.  

Of course, reaching these niches audiences isn’t for every brand. "If brands try to just jump in and immediately try to do it," said Martin, "I don't know if it would totally make sense or come across as authentic."

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