Campaign Theme in Haiku Format:
Walmart steaks so good
Restaurant diners are fooled?
Um, I’m skeptical.
Okay…where to begin?
From a creative standpoint, this campaign is a clear and blatant rip-off of the classic “we’ve secretly replaced their gourmet coffee with Folger’s crystals” ads from the 70s and 80s. I like creativity in my advertising. I want to see something new and fresh, not a rehash of a 35 year old concept.
That said, stealing the Folger’s idea is absolutely brilliant.
Admit it: when the guy says they’re replacing the steaks in some high-end steakhouse with Walmart steaks, your B.S. detector went off. I know mine did. We’re all thinking the same things: there is no freakin’ way these people could a) not notice and b) actually enjoy it. I’m guessing this is the same reaction my parents’ generation had when the Folger’s campaign was new. The underlying message – if the patrons in these fancy-pants places can’t tell the difference, neither will my family – is tough to beat.
But as brilliant as their concept is, it does not work perfectly.
Things have changed quite a bit in the last 30+ years. We are more skeptical and jaded then we used to be. Everybody knows that many “reality” TV moments are carefully planned, staged, and even scripted. Sure, these folks enjoyed their Walmart steaks, but how many other diners knew their meat was not as good as it usually is and sent their steaks back? The on-screen disclaimer says “Real customers were shown and compensated for their time and participation.” What does that mean? Did the folks who raved about Walmart steak walk out with $500 gift cards to Walmart? Were their reactions really that authentic? Are we supposed to trust Walmart, a company that just admitted to tricking about of unsuspecting people?
Let’s focus back on their message. I know the reaction I’m supposed to have is “Walmart steaks are so good I’d never know them from those served in an expensive steakhouse”. But here is the reaction I had the first time I saw this ad:
“Man, I’d be so pissed if they did that to me.”
Seriously. Imagine you’re out on a special date at a very nice restaurant. This isn’t grabbing a bite at Applebee’s, I’m talking about a fancy place with cloth napkins, where you need reservations and probably dress up a little bit. The kind of place you’re only going to a couple of times a year. As you and your lovely date sit down at Jimmy Kelly’s Steakhouse, a well-known Nashville restaurant, you scan the dinner menu and decide that you are going to splurge on the ribeye ($36.75, not including sides, drinks, tax, or tip). For $36.75, I’m expecting a damn good piece of meat, perfectly seasoned and grilled to my exact specifications. I’m expecting a steak so good that I would never even consider tainting it with a drop of steak sauce.
Instead, they bring you out a piece of meat from Walmart. Just typing out that scenario makes my blood boil. I don’t care how delicious it is, I would be so, so mad.
It raises a question: Why on earth would these well-known steakhouses agree to let Walmart do this? It is a lose/lose proposition for them. You either invite years of scrutiny upon your restaurant/chef/food because you knowingly served Walmart steaks. And if the ad is successful, potential customers realize they can get equal quality beef at Walmart for $7.98 a pound, and have no need to pay you $36.75 for the same thing. Essentially you have allowed Walmart to use your business to discourage people from using your business. That is an interesting business strategy, Jimmy Kelly Steakhouse. I hope you got some big bucks from Walmart.
I know there are some of you thinking that old Folger’s campaign didn’t hurt the business or reputation of those four-star places. And you’re probably right, but there is a big difference here.
Coffee, while an integral part of a meal for some, is not why people go to a four star restaurant – the food is the reason. If I go to a fancy place, my fabulous meal is not going to be ruined because I had a cup of mediocre instant coffee. But that doesn’t hold true for these commercials. Great steak is the cornerstone of a great steakhouse. Jimmy Kelly Steakhouse may give me a free dessert for my participation, but every time I walk in there I’ll think about the time they gave me piece of meat that came from a store where the people watching has its own website.
Put it another way – if Folger’s revived their old campaign, do you think Starbucks would allow them to come into their stores and film people saying “This is really good. Instead of spending $3.75 here for my coffee, I’ll use Folger’s from now on”? Hell no.
And that is where this campaign ultimately falls apart. Look: I know you can get some nice, quality items at Wally-World, and in my experience, their fresh grocery items (meat, deli, produce) are probably on par with most other grocery chains. But convincing me that a Walmart steak can pass for one at a great steakhouse? That is just too high of a mountain to climb.