- Panera Bread's latest online campaign seeks to defuse criticism from people who were upset when the fast-casual chain dropped onion soup from the menu last fall. The company posted a video starring Phyllis Smith, who played character Phyllis Vance in "The Office," as she meekly reads mean tweets from disgruntled customers and highlights the return of the beloved soup, per information shared with Mobile Marketer.
- Panera triggered the angry reaction when it removed Bistro French Onion, which had been on the menu for more than 20 years, to make room for seasonal fare. The company, which in September said the soup would be coming back, responded to the distressed comments on social media while cooking up the idea to create the video, Ad Age reported.
- In the one-minute spot, Phyllis is identified as a social media coordinator whose cubicle has a nameplate saying she "loves the Bistro French Onion Soup." She reads through comments such as "Bring back French onion soup, you cowards!" and "I just want some [bleeped] French onion soup! [Bleep] you!" Coolfire Studios shot the video, which was produced by Anomaly agency and edited by Unreasonable Studios, per Ad Age. The video appears on YouTube and Panera's Twitter account that has 466,000 followers.
Panera's campaign aims to make light of a (possibly intentional) menu move that spurred negative reactions from customers who enlisted social media to air their grievances. The company describes the effort as an example of how "social listening" provides valuable consumer insights and drives strong marketing initiatives.
By teaming with Smith, Panera is also looking to tap into the continued popularity of "The Office," which ran from 2005 to 2013. The show has found new life with Gen Z viewers and has been used by other marketers such as Heineken. However, the show will leave Netflix at the end of 2020 and head to NBCUniversal's forthcoming Peacock streaming service, which could affect its resonance for cord-cutting consumers.
Social listening has become a key driver of menu decisions among restaurant chains in recent years, as seen in multiple examples of viral campaigns. Burger chain Wendy's last year transformed an unsolicited request by musical artist Chance the Rapper to bring back spicy chicken nuggets. The company pledged to bring back the menu item if Twitter users responded to its challenge with 2 million "likes," a target that was easily surpassed.
However, social media can just as quickly spread negative publicity, as Panera saw last fall when a TikTok video posted by a former employee went viral on the social video platform that's popular with U.S. teens. The clip, which has generated 1.2 million likes and millions more views, shows a Panera worker putting a frozen bag of the company's macaroni and cheese into a vat of boiling water, set to a soundtrack of a man laughing hysterically. The video triggered criticism about how much of the chain's "clean" food is frozen. Panera responded to the negative publicity, saying freezing food was necessary to avoid using preservatives that don't meet its clean standards, USA Today reported.