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Exclusive: Applebee's latest ad highlights new direction of digital media

Anthony Fontes, one of Applebee's social media fans, is now a star of one of their commercials
Anthony Fontes, one of Applebee's social media fans, is now a star of one of their commercials

Anthony "the stash" Fontes did not even have a Vine account when he saw the TV advertisement from Applebee's looking for customers to show their six-second reactions to their new "Under 550 Calories" menu. But after watching the commercial a few times, he knew he had to put his amazing Imperial Partial Beard to work.

Now, Fontes, and his glorious facial hair, are the stars of a new television commercial that incorporates the restaurant chain's engaged community on social media into their traditional advertising. And this hybrid style of marketing may very well be the future of digital media.

It's not that other companies haven't been using social media in their traditional marketing techniques, hashtags have been a staple of traditional TV commercials for years, but Applebee's has been taking the blend of social and traditional styles of advertising to the next level consistently, and their latest round of "what the what?" , Vine-inspired advertisements, only builds on their commitment to their fans on social media.

Jill McFarland, Manager of Social Media for Applebee's, said the idea for incorporating social media into their latest round of television advertising arose from a very traditional form of marketing: focus groups.

"When we did focus groups for our Under 550 Calories menu, we would always love the honest reactions we got from people," McFarland told The Examiner.

From there, the idea of using their loyal community's reactions on social media in television commercials was born, and the success of the idea has been two-fold: not only has the company rewarded its followers for engaging with them on social media with a chance to star in a commercial, but the restaurant is also inspiring people not on social media to sign up and join in on the fun.

"The number of people who joined Vine just to submit their video was amazing," said McFarland.

Now one of Applebee's biggest social stars, Fontes, is also one of the best examples of the marketing campaign's success. He always thought he was "too busy" for social media, but joined Vine for the commercial, and now is a follower of Applebee's on Twitter and Facebook. He said he was initially hooked by the product, the Under 550 Calories menu, but has been impressed by the company's direction and their mixing of pup culture and niche´markets into the traditional "neighborhood grill" appeal of the restaurant.

In essence, the success of the campaign, and why this style of advertising should be looked at by other companies as the future of digital media, is that the campaign establishes that connection between building communities on social media and transferring that into real world sales and success.

While the company has not released the exact numbers on how well the commercial did, yet, McFarland stated it has been "very successful", and to look for more social media inspired videos to come in the future.

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