Chick-fil-A's cows have become tech-savvy pitchmen in the chicken chain's first major work from McCann New York.
The cows rose to advertising fame in 1995, when The Richards Group began posting creative billboards attempting to get people to "Eat Mor Chikin." Last year, after 22 years with the agency, Chick-fil-A decided it was time to take the cows and the chain's growing creative aspirations elsewhere.
When Chick-fil-A brought the account to McCann NY, the largest U.S. chicken chain stressed that it still wanted to use its famous bovine ambassadors, while also telling more of its own brand story, a strategy it dubbed "cows-plus." As Chick-fil-A and McCann plan for the brand-centric work, likely to debut closer to fall, the cows are ready for their next moment in the marketing spotlight.
"We always felt pretty good about the basic fundamental cow campaign strategy, which is cows interested in self-preservation," said Joe Saracino, Chick-fil-A's VP-brand strategy and media. "It's a campaign that we want to make sure that we always get right."
Chick-fil-A asked McCann NY to stick with the cows but "do something that would engage with our guests in new and interesting ways," he said.
Enter the trend of virtual reality and 360-degree viewing.
This week, Chick-fil-A began teasing a "Cowz VR" site and distributing thousands of free Chick-fil-A-branded cardboard viewers.
On Sunday, more of the story will appear when Chick-fil-A makes the site live and runs two 30-second commercials during the Grammy Awards, each featuring Starship's 1980s hit "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now."
This is the first time Chick-fil-A has bought time during the Grammys on a national level, after running local spots in the past.
The first spot (below) shows the cows distributing VR goggles to people and directs the audience to the site.
The second commercial (below) is a split-screen that gives a sense of what the site looks like and people's reactions to it.
The explanations might help Chick-fil-A connect with the large number of consumers still unfamiliar with VR, which has not been utilized yet by too many marketers. A new Forrester Research report showed 42% of U.S. adults online have never heard about VR headsets, while an additional 46% said they don't see a use for VR in their lives. And marketing services outfit Yes Lifecycle Marketing said only 8% of marketers are currently using VR in advertising.
Using VR is new for Chick-fil-A but is already a proven winner at McCann NY, which collaborated with Framestore on Lockheed Martin's "Field Trip to Mars," the most-awarded campaign at Cannes last year. Framestore worked on the Chick-fil-A campaign as well.
This time, rather than an inspiration message, the VR experience is centered around humor.
"The cows are such a great long-lasting icon associated with the brand and they've always employed whatever tech that they had at their disposal to convince people to eat more chicken," said McCann NY Co-Chief Creative Officer Sean Bryan.
Chick-fil-A's VR and 360-degree experiences play off of adrenaline-charged VR experiences, with the cows on pursuits including auto racing, hot air balloon rides, skydiving and skiing.
"What we said was let's take the tropes of VR, the kind of typical experiences that people showcase and use, but by doing them the way the cows would do them, let's make people laugh," Mr. Bryan said.
And each time their signs are there, reminding people to "Eat Mor Chikin." The new misspelled word the cows use in the VR campaign is "realitee."
For now, there are no plans to bring the VR experience to Chick-fil-A's well-known billboards. But there could be more VR. "We may build more VR content," Mr. Saracino said. "This gives us a platform to do that."
McCann NY was already doing some cow-related marketing including social media, but the "Cowz VR" campaign is its first major push for Chick-fil-A. Mr. Bryan said working on the Chick-fil-A cows has been an honor and a challenge.
"The Richards Group did a fantastic job with that campaign for many years," Mr. Bryan said. "They created an icon, one of the more recognizable things in the industry, and we have to keep it going and keep it fresh and make people continue to like it."
Chick-fil-A worked with McCann NY, lead for creative, strategy, advertising, social creative and management; Framestore for TV and VR experience production and finishing; Cut&Run Editorial for TV & VR; Sonic Union for TV mix and sound design; Q Department for sound design and VR mix, in association with Mach1; Majestyk for front end site development; Starcom for TV and digital buys; and Moxie for social media buys and community management.