The restaurant chain Chili’s just broke a new ad campaign and it’s really good.
The campaign is rooted in Chili’s roots, going back to the ancient time of 1975, when hamburger hippies still roamed the planet and they had simple ideals and values–– to serve good burgers, fries, chili, beer, and good times.
Sounds like a winning recipe, right?
It was. The Chili’s chain grew like kudzu on a diet of Miracle-Gro, water, and eternal sunshine. Chili’s popped up everywhere, and unfortunately, over the years its menu also grew. Like many restaurants, they had The Cheesecake Factory menu envy.
Chili’s started adding everything but tequila-grilled sushi to its offering of simple staples: eggrolls, flatbreads, wings, queso, fried-just-about-anything, three soups in addition to chili, a slew of salads, burritos, tacos galore, mango-chile chicken, fajitas, ribs (“I want my baby back, baby back, baby back…” you know the rest), steaks, fresh Mex bowls, a sandwich board of sandwiches, warm quinoa & wheatberry (?), shrimp, salmon, enchiladas, tostadas, quesadillas, pastas, chicken crispers, mango-chile tilapia–– you get the drill, a menu the size of the IRS 1040 filing instructions, and almost as confusing.
And guess what? With the ever-expansive menu, the food quality dropped. I used to be a big Chili’s fan. I loved them when I lived in Dallas in the 80’s. Back then, the menu was simple and consistently delicious. Chili’s chili was terrific.
I recently ate at a Chili’s in Atlanta and tried a bowl of the original red. They’ve even screwed up their signature chili. The burgers now taste processed, and the atmosphere is artificial (how many pieces of flair can you wear?). The restaurant felt like the front end of some distant commissary in an industrial park; an antiseptic place churning out soulless fare.
As much as I like their new ad campaign, I know it’s a lie. The Chili’s experience is not the one depicted in the “hamburger hippies” TV spots. Today’s Chili’s feels like the “product of a boardroom” and managed by “a bunch of stiffs”–– the ones these new spots use as the antithesis of the restaurant’s humble and idealistic beginnings.
Unfortunately, now Chili’s is a monolithic factory manufacturing high caloric processed foodlike mouthfeels.
Which is a damn shame. I loved Chili’s and I want them to be the restaurants with the spirit of the hamburger hippies spots. It’s a great story, a terrific legacy, but it doesn’t hold true today.
Bill Bernbach said great advertising will put a bad product out of business quicker. The reason is the ads will set high expectations, and if reality delivers disappointment, well, people know the score and won’t be back.
I wish advertising could fix operational issues, but it can’t.
There’s a lesson for all marketers to remember. We’re only as good as whatever it is we’re putting in the spotlight, and unfortunately, sometimes our ads are better than what’s being advertised.
And that’s dangerous.