Buffalo Wild Wings: From mid-life crisis back to 'great American sports bar'

"The brand had lost its way and we needed to get back to the roots of what we were about."

Buffalo Wild Wings knew it lost its way when videos of silver-haired crooners jamming to old-school hits at the chain’s karaoke nights were making the rounds on social media. 

But the brand has managed to recapture its spirit as America’s sports bar by tapping into valid insights and forming slightly edgy, and certainly provocative, ad campaigns. 

"They had kind of abdicated their responsibility to be a sports bar," said Kristen Cavallo, CEO of The Martin Agency, which won Buffalo Wild Wings’ business as creative AOR last year. 

"It’s not just the brand that had become like a 36-year-old man going through a midlife crisis, but the fans had become just as domesticated," she added at the ANA Masters of Marketing Conference last week.

According to Buffalo Wild Wings CMO Seth Freeman, the brand got back to its roots its customers by launching a fresh advertising presence, improving food quality and ensuring that customers could let loose while watching a game.

"The brand had lost its way and we needed to get back to the roots of what we were about: being the great American sports bar. So we connected with a partner and an agency that helped us bring that voice to life," he said. 

Cavallo agreed that Buffalo Wild Wings needed to make some radical changes, saying: "We thought, 'We’re coming out of the gates really strong, and if they don’t want candor in their agency, we won’t advance.' But we did."  

One particularly polarizing campaign was the introduction of the jewel stool for March madness, for men who had just had vasectomies. 

And the campaign had some solid science backing it up, as the number of vasectomies increases 30 percent during the month of March. 

"We are looking for truth more than the majority opinion, because sometimes the majority opinion is not as interesting as the truth," Cavallo said. 

"As soon as we launched it we got some blog posts and emails bashing it. I personally got an email from one blog accusing me of being a whack job femnazi. They also made the leap that we were performing the vasectomies at Buffalo Wild Wings," she exclaimed, which Freeman was quick to point out, was not the case. 

But those conversations created sales.

"The most talked-about brands grow two and a half times faster than their competitors. Not the most liked brands, or the most well-known, but the most talked about," said Cavallo.

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