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Why Long John Silver's new ad campaign won't hook many customers

Using the wriong bait
Using the wriong bait
current-works.com

"[S]omething new is happening at Long John Silver's," CMO Charles St. Clair told Advertising Age. The restaurant chain is introducing healthier menu items – baked instead of fried fish and shellfish dishes – and more to-go choices. "[W]e've been evolving our menu and communications to contemporize the brand and make it more relevant for how consumers eat today," he added.

But you'd never guess it from the new commercials intended to announce it.

Just as the restaurant chain's fictional namesake buried treasure, these new spots bury not only the benefits, attributes and features, but even the message itself.

Say what?

Each commercial gives what someone, for some unfathomable reason, thought was a highly salient reason for coming into Long John's to eat fish:

  1. "Final Frontier" – Cows are caged, but fish aren't.
  2. "Methane" – Beef animals fart methane.
  3. "Marinated Pork" – Pigs "marinate" in excrement. (Link unavailable)

These rationales come from the actual commercials themselves; we're not making them up.

The video shows cows in cages, cows' rear ends, pigs wallowing in you-know-what, and fish swimming around. Doesn't that just make your mouth water?

The only real sales points the spots make are one mention of "great-tasting seafood" and one mention of "fish sustainably harvested from the wildest place on earth."

'Sustainability' doesn't sell

In addition to being a buzzword in some circles, "sustainability" is a big deal at the restaurant chain, which (although it serves farmed shrimp) claims in an email that it ""sources its core fish (filets, sandwiches) from the North Pacific and only from suppliers who use certified, sustainable fisheries."

If sustainability's such a big deal, why do the commercials limit it to an audio throwaway? Maybe because it's not such a big deal in the marketplace. In reporting on the results of a 2012 GfK consumer survey, we noted:

More consumers are tired of sacrificing for the sake of ecological correctness, a Green Gauge survey by GfK revealed today.

"[W]hile 93% of consumers say they have personally changed their behavior to conserve energy in their household, they're becoming less willing to pay more for green products," writes Advertising Age, reporting on the survey of 2,000 U.S. consumers.

The percentage of consumers who said they'd pay more for green products has shrunken significantly.

Four years ago, in 2008, 45% of consumers said they'd pay more for clothing with recycled content. Today, only 40% will.

Packaging that uses less plastic suffered a similar decline, from 52% to 47%, as did food without hormones and antibiotics (57% then, 51% now), products made with recycled paper (from 53% to 47%) and electricity from renewable sources (56% vs. 48%).

The biggest losers were biodegradable plastic packaging (58% to 49%), energy-efficient light bulbs (70% to 60%) and "autos that pollute less" (62% to 49%).

So even if the commercials managed to communicate a sustainability message, instead of deep-sixing it, they'd be tying into a trend whose time has gone.

Swimming against the current

Marketplace currents have been working against Long John Silver's, and since the chain's 2011 sale to Yum Brands, management has been working to change that. Sales were down 3.1 percent in 2012, and management's working to change that, too.

After the Center for Science in the Public Interest labeled their Big Catch plate, with 333 grams of trans fat, "the worst restaurant meal in America," they vowed to eliminate trans fat by the end of last year. They've also added under-600 calorie meals to their website menu.

Those are things worth communicating, especially to an aging consumer population. Too bad the new ad campaign doesn't.

The lower fat, lower calories and even the naturally harvested fish are good bait for catching more customers. They're certainly better lures than the fact that cows fart.

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