To say there’s a love affair between fast food sandwich giant Arby’s and Jon Stewart would be a significant overstatement.
But thanks to the work of the Minneapolis ad agency Fallon, viewers of Stewart’s next to last “The Daily Show” on Wednesday could have been confused.
A 30-second commercial featured visuals of Stewart’s rants about the Arby’s menu, while the voice of actor Ving Rhames sang “Thank You for Being a Friend,” the theme from TV’s “Golden Girls.”
“Not sure why, but we’ll miss him,” the ad concluded after replays of such previously broadcast Stewart thoughts as “Technically it’s food,” “It’s like shock and awe for your bowels” and “Arby’s, isn’t there anywhere else we can eat?” ran through the course of the spot.
“We tried to be restrained,” said Fallon creative director Matt Heath. “We weren’t going to beat one of the funniest guys in the world. We wanted to show that Arby’s was taking its licks and was still there to be a friend.”
Heath said such a self-deprecating ad would have been a difficult sell with other clients, but not Arby’s.
“They’ve always been a shoot-from-the-hip, smart, risky client,” Heath said. Arby’s said the fast-food chain was happy with the ad and the “online chatter” it generated.
“Our banter with Jon over the last couple of years just goes to show that if you can keep your sense of humor while staying true to your brand, you can turn what could have been a negative experience in our favor,” Arby’s said in a statement to the Star Tribune, calling its advertising effort “authentic and unapologetic.”
Fallon began its agency relationship with Arby’s more than a year ago with a Memorial Day ad that ran for a daunting 13 hours on a Duluth TV station and featured a live Internet broadcast of a brisket smoking. The ad generated nearly 400,000 viewers who, on average, watched the slow cooking hunk of meat for 38 minutes at a time.
And when Pepsi was shortchanged out of an Arby’s ad to which it was entitled by contract, Fallon created a quick turnaround spot that admitted the mistake and said, “Arby’s. We have Pepsi.” It was a social media hit.
Whatever it is, something seems to be working.
Arby’s said same-store sales, a key indicator of growth, increased 9.6 percent in the first quarter of 2015 and were up 7.6 percent in the second quarter.