How a Hockey Coach's Burrito Habit Turned Into an Ad Campaign

Pittsburgh Qdoba Franchisee, Agency Use Team's Playoff Run (and Social Media) to Boost Store Sales

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Hockey players during the playoffs are a superstitious lot, hence the springtime ritual of growing out shaggy beards on the way to the Stanley Cup. But playoff burritos?

Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma enjoys a Qdoba burrito.
Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma enjoys a Qdoba burrito.
Chad Brooks, a Pittsburgh Qdoba franchisee, noticed that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma came to one of Mr. Brooks' 10 Qdoba restaurants for a BBQ pork burrito before every game. And as the team kept winning, some players started joining their coach for a lucky burrito.

'Tweet-ups'
"Chad called me on a Sunday afternoon and said that he had this great story and didn't know how we could help in getting awareness about it," said John Gatesman, partner at ad agency Gatesman Marmion Drake, which represents Qdoba in the Pittsburgh market. "We needed to do it quickly because it was the final week of the playoffs."

So the agency had a Facebook fan page up the next day, and it surpassed 1,000 fans within 72 hours. Next came posts on Twitter about Mr. Bylsma's pregame habits on the micro-blogging site, eventually arranging "tweet-ups" where fans could see the coach getting his fix.

A wave of media outreach resulted in local TV news and radio coverage. "The Lucky Burrito Campaign," as it became known, was mentioned in the New York Times and USA Today, as well as on NHL.com and ESPN.com.

Big ROI
Qdoba, a 440-unit chain owned by Jack-in-the-Box, focuses on "more-healthful" Mexican food and "original" flavors. Signature burritos include the poblano pesto, fajita ranchera and the ancho chile BBQ burrito.

Mr. Brooks approached the Penguins coach about playing along with the campaign. Mr. Bylsma not only agreed, but he also did in-store TV interviews, posed for photos and signed autographs at his usual Qdoba in downtown Pittsburgh. On one occasion, he brought his family, which also participated in interviews. His son even claimed to be more superstitious than his father about getting the pregame burrito. The restaurant thanked Mr. Bylsma by packing a burrito on ice for last Friday's Stanley Cup Finals clincher in Detroit. Local news crews filmed the burrito's preparation and transit.

Mr. Brooks got a sizable return on his minimal investment: a 20% same-store-sales gain during the two-week promotional window from ostensibly a viral campaign. Gatesman Marmion did buy a few Facebook ads for $500 apiece.

'Coach Dan' burritos
"Customer response was overwhelmingly positive," Mr. Brooks said in an e-mail. "Our regulars felt like they were insiders on a cool story and tons of people who before had no incentive to try us were coming in and ordering coach's special burrito. On the day of Game 7, we had one office call in an order of 30 'Coach Dan' burritos so they could do their part, and a couple stores had their biggest day in years."

Raelin Musuraca, chief digital strategist at Gatesman Marmion, said the agency did its best to begin the Facebook conversation and then let fans take over. Agency employees, and Mr. Brooks, kept and eye on the chatter, and would post links to related news stories when things started to drag.

"If it would have stayed just as a Facebook following with a few hundred fans, we would have called it a success," Mr. Brooks said. "When we ended up with a daily presence on local TV newscasts and national TV, radio coverage and sports-related websites, we were shocked."

Other marketers may be taking note. Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau eats a No. 4 Turkey Tom sandwich from Jimmy John's before every game and is vocal it. A Jimmy John's spokeswoman said the chain has no current marketing efforts to promote Mr. Morneau's ritual. The Champaign, Ill., sandwich chain, with nearly 900 restaurants, is a fast-casual concept specializing in fresh, high-quality ingredients and speedy service.

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