Arby's Stages Chicken-Salad Face-Off Against Subway

Fast Feeder Urges Consumers to Cast Their Vote on Facebook

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Arby's is staging a game of chicken.

The fast feeder is asking customers to "dare to compare" its Market Fresh Grilled Chicken and Pecan Salad Sandwich and Wrap to Subway's Orchard Chicken Salad sub.

Arby's is marketing the taste-off through blogger outreach, digital and social media channels, including through its Facebook page, where users can vote from now until May 22 on which sandwich they prefer. The results will be announced May 23.

Arby's is confident enough in its chicken-salad option that fans of the Arby's Facebook page can download a coupon for a free chicken salad sandwich or wrap and a drink. And for each vote cast -- whether it's a vote for Arby's or Subway -- Arby's will donate one dollar, up to a total of $25,000, to Share Our Strength's No Kid Hungry campaign, a national push to end childhood hunger.

As for why Arby's is staging a taste-off, Bob Kraut, senior VP-advertising and marketing communications at Arby's , said that Arby's had planned on rolling out the seasonal item in early May and noticed that Subway was also promoting its chicken-salad sandwich. "We believe we have a superior product, one that customers like because the number one reason for purchase is taste. We thought we'd have a friendly little game of chicken over chicken salad."

In the two days since the taste-off was launched, Mr. Kraut said that out of a total of about 1,500 votes so far, are "about 10 to one vs. Subway." He added that the fast feeder's Facebook fan base has increased about 15% to 355,000.

Arby's first introduced its chicken-salad sandwich in 2004 and typically rolls it out as a seasonal product. It will be available until mid-August. Subway launched its chicken-salad sandwich nationally in May 2010 and offers it in the spring and summer months.

Both Subway and Arby's are airing ads for their chicken-salad offerings, and seemingly share a visual theme of objects buckling under the weight of the ads' subjects. Arby's ad includes "light" messaging, but not "light" in the sense of diet-friendly. In the ad, the floor buckles under the weight of a man and his office chair after a heavy meal. A woman is floating in the air because her lunch was too light. The voiceover in the Arby's ad says, "Not too heavy. Not too light. Perfect lunch harmony." The ad was created by Omnicom's BBDO, Arby's agency since December. Mr. Kraut said that the ads are in line with the company's new slogan, "good mood food."

Subway, perennially the leader in the fast-food industry when it comes to a healthful image, is airing an ad created by independent MMB, which first ran in spring 2009. It shows, among other things, a diving board buckling under the weight of a person jumping off it, but the message is one of a healthier fast-food option -- a common theme in much of Subway's advertising. Subway declined to comment for this story.

Indeed, when looking at the nutritional facts, Subway's is the healthier choice. Subway's chicken-salad sandwich, for a 247-gram serving, is about 370 calories, 70 of which come from fat, with 8 grams of fat. Arby's chicken-salad sandwich, for a 311-gram serving, is about 750 calories, 300 of which come from fat, and 34 grams of fat.

But Mr. Kraut said that Arby's positioning is less about being low-fat or healthy and more about being a reasonable lunch choice that tastes good. For Arby's and the taste-off, "this is all about taste."

Arby's parent company, Wendy's /Arby's Group, released its first-quarter earnings Tuesday, reporting that Arby's North American same-store sales were up 5.5%. Roland Smith, president-CEO of Wendy's /Arby's Group, in the earnings release said: "Sales were driven by our everyday dollar value menu, the introduction of our 'good mood food' brand positioning and the successful launch of our new Angus Three Cheese and Bacon Sandwich."

Arby's in 2010 dropped its spending 4.6% to $95.6 million, down from $100.2 million in 2009, according to WPP's Kantar.

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