How a TikTok video changed Arby's marketing, and other brand stories from SXSW
Deborah von Kutzleben, Arby's head of brand strategy, advertising and menu, wondered if maybe the company was taking its TikTok obsession a little too far, when it was rearranging its entire menu just for a meme.
But she says it was worth it, even if “we didn’t sell millions of ‘missing menu’ meals,” von Kutzleben said, during a conversation with Ocean Spray, the National Football League and TikTok at SXSW on Tuesday.
TikTok brought the brands together to discuss the ways that the app is affecting culture. For Arby’s, that meant reminiscing about one of its most breakout moments last year.
What happened was a popular TikTok user John Casterline, who goes by the name “H1T1,” posted a video of a new flat-screen TV purchase. When Casterline fired up the TV for the first time, it had an Arby’s menu display. Casterline’s bemused disappointment at having Arby’s flashing on his TV led to 3.6 million views on TikTok.
Von Kutzleben discussed how the brand scours social media for just these moments. Arby’s has two “social listeners” monitoring apps like TiKTok.
“We just knew we had to do something,” von Kutzleben said. “And that built into actually creating an entire menu, or a meal, based on what this TikToker found, and getting it into restaurants in a matter of probably less than 10 days.”
Asked whether she would do any of it differently, since it’s no easy feat to concoct a new menu item: “There was that moment of like, ‘Do we think this is worth it,’ right,” von Kutzleben said. “And we went ahead and did it, and I’m so glad we did.”
This is exactly the kind of story TikTok is hoping brands find on the app. Before Arby’s it was Nathan Apodaca, “420Doggface208,” who made Ocean Spray a popular brand on TikTok just by drinking from the bottle, while skateboarding, and listing to Fleetwood Mac. TikTok now has about 100 million users in the U.S., and has taken its place within the top-tier social platforms that brands are watching closely.
Melanie DiBiasio, senior manager of digital precision marketing at Ocean Spray, was also in the SXSW conversation, along with AJ Curry, NFL’s senior manager of social content. TikTok’s Sandie Hawkins, general manager of U.S. and global business solutions, hosted the discussion on how the short-form video app is changing how brands think about everything from their marketing to what they sell in stores. Brands like Arby’s are taking feedback from the TikTok community and using it to alter their entire business strategies.
SXSW kicked off on Tuesday and runs through Saturday. TikTok was at SXSW, the Austin-based music, tech and media festival, as a sponsor for the first time this year. The event was moved to an online-only venue in light of COVID-19 precautions, after being canceled last year from the pandemic.
Hawkins offered advice to brands about how to use TikTok, especially shy brands that are worried about jumping into the chaotic comments sections that accompany videos. “This is something that brands are usually scared to do,” Hawkins said.
But Arby’s, Ocean Spray and the NFL are becoming adept at using the comments section to interact with fans.
“We knew we wanted to have this authoritative nature of the NFL [on TikTok] that you would see elsewhere, but also speak to our audience instead of speaking at them,” Curry said. “And one of the best ways to do that is to engage in conversation such as in the comments section.”
In the afternoon, TikTok brought together McDonald’s, HBO Max and Gatorade to talk about how marketers can create ads for the platform.
Gatorade’s Jill Abbott, head of consumer and athlete engagement, said the sports drink maker, owned by PepsiCo, became more acquainted with TikTok during the pandemic. COVID-19 forced all brands to rethink their media strategies as they were looking for flexibility with their ad budgets.
"We started to put all of our money where we knew all of our athletes were spending their time,” Abbott said.
Abbott did not say how much money Gatorade moved into TikTok, or how successful the strategy was, but she said that it went better than expected.
“We learned that it actually delivers a really strong [return],” Abbott said. “Much stronger than we anticipated.”