Arby's and Sonic Drive-In have been part of the same company for less than two weeks. Now they're working with the same media agency—Publicis Groupe's Zenith, which has won the Arby's business from Interpublic's Initiative.
Inspire Brands, which owns Arby's and Buffalo Wild Wings, bought Sonic in December. Sonic has worked with Zenith for years. Zenith will begin working on the Arby's national account as of of Jan. 1. Initiative, which held the Arby's account for more than 15 years, retains the brand's local media account. The Arby's national account shift represents the second time this month that a client has moved media from Interpublic to Publicis Groupe: Last week, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles shifted its media business from UM to Starcom.
However, an IPG Mediabrands spokesman said Initiative it did not participate in the Arby's review. "As Arby's is now part of Inspire Brands joining other restaurant brands like Buffalo Wild Wings, we declined to pitch due to conflicts with other Initiative clients," he stated in an email. Initiative handles Applebees, which competes with Buffalo Wild Wings.
Inspire does not plan to consolidate all its holdings under Zenith. Buffalo Wild Wings, which Inspire acquired in February, moved its media to WPP's Mindshare in the fall. Combined, the three brands spend close to $500 million on paid media annually, according to Inspire. Arby's spent about $140 million on measured media in 2017, according to Kantar Media.
Jason Loehr, who joined Inspire Brands earlier this year as VP of media, says the company did not set out to put Arby's and Sonic under the same media agency, it just turned out that way. Zenith, he says, is a nice fit for Arby's because the chain already works with other Publicis agencies Fallon on creative and Moxie on social.
Loehr says Inspire will operate as a house of brands, much like the businesses he worked on for years at liquor marketer Brown-Forman. For instance, the trio of chains will share data around customer insights and personalization and Inspire can pull best practices from one brand to the others where it makes sense.
Inspire's media team is around a dozen people now, up from about five or six when Loehr joined in April. "One of the key things is the way that we've been building out our data models, especially the role of reach," he said, adding that he thinks Arby's has been "a little bit more ahead of the curve on that."
Sonic is the largest of the three chains, with just over 3,600 restaurants, 95 percent of which are franchised, and $4.4 billion in systemwide sales. Arby's has about 3,440 restaurants, with about 77 percent franchised, and systemwide sales of $3.7 billion. Buffalo Wild Wings has roughly 1,270 restaurants, half of which are franchised, and systemwide sales of $3.9 billion. Inspire also owns the small Rusty Taco chain, which has 28 restaurants, 19 of which are franchised.
Sonic continues to work with Goodby Silverstein & Partners on creative and Vayner on social. Buffalo Wild Wings selected the Martin Agency earlier this year for creative and works with 22squared on social.
Arby's has built a strong voice on social media, going back years to include Pharrell's hat at the Grammys in 2014, a moment that exploded for the brand on Twitter. And while he's no longer on the air, Jon Stewart's roasting of the roast beef brand on "The Daily Show" is the type of media exposure most brands only dream of. Buffalo Wild Wings this year signed a deal with DraftKings on a special fantasy football mobile game. And Sonic's "two guys" ads have been running for years.