Long John Silver’s, the biggest seafood chain in the U.S., is on a mission to rebrand their fast food as healthy, sustainable, and eco-conscious. They dove into a new advertising campaign this week, pushing consumers to “think fish.”
The three new ads “are designed to help consumers understand that something new is happening at Long John Silver’s,” Chief Marketing Officer Charles St. Clair said in a statement released by the chain. The ads are also a passive-aggressive hit on the sustainability message being promoted by other fast-food chains that offer barnyard animal options.
The first ad, titled “Methane,” shows the backside of cows and humorously refers to the methane produced there and the decrease in air quality, then cuts to a scene of fish in a bubble-less sea. The second, titled “Final Frontier,” shows cows in a factory farm with restricted movement, asking if anyone has ever heard of free range, cutting to a school of fish and touting their product as being sustainably harvested from the wildest place on earth. The cows shown are actually dairy cows and certainly not ending up in your burritos, but it gets the point across nonetheless.
The final ad, titled “Marinated Pork,” shows pigs rolling around in muck and asks the viewer, “Why so happy? They know that’s not just mud, right?” The tail-end of the 15 second ad goes on to push seafood as a “different taste from a different kind of place” with a school of fish swimming in nearly crystal clear water — though it’s unclear if the debris falling through the water is fish food or, well, what it turns into. All of the ads are short, pithy, and, according to St. Clair, while definitely poking fun at how other meat is sourced, they are meant to encourage eaters, not shame them.
The chain started testing the waters in late December, 2013 with an animated short titled “Responsibility,” detailing how they’re involved in helping to shape responsible fishing practices to combat over-fishing. Even though the short debuted two months after Chipotle’s (NYSE:CMG) infamous and heartbreaking animation, “The Scarecrow,” Long John Silver’s marketing department is making an effort to convince consumers that they’re not just hopping on board an eco-consciousness movement made mainstream by Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) and Chipotle.
The short animation tells consumers that they “do more than follow sustainable fishing guidelines, [they] helped create them.” On the Responsibility page of the chain’s website, they tell readers about the choices they’ve made — such as switching from over-fished Alaskan Cod to Alaskan Pollock in 1989 and closing off fishing in 58,000 nautical square miles to lessen the impact to native sea lions — showing that they’ve been on board all along. In a very conscious decision, as opposed to Chipotle, Long John Silver’s tone is non-judgmental, lighthearted, and hopeful.
Contrary to what Long John Silver’s is pushing in terms of the longevity of their commitment to healthy and wholesome, though, the chain has a history of being criticized for their unhealthy offerings and were in dire need of this rebranding effort. Since their Big Catch Plate was dubbed the “worst restaurant meal in America” by the Center for Science in the Public Interest with 33 grams of trans fat — 16 times the recommended daily intake by the American Heart Association — the chain has discontinued the meal and committed to becoming 100 percent trans fat free even before the FDA passed the new trans fat regulation.
Diving even deeper into the new healthy, artisanal food streak sweeping fast-food chains, Long John Silver’s subsequently unveiled a new menu featuring meals under 600 calories, a Ciabatta Jack Fish Sandwich, and non-fried items like Zesty Asian and Creamy Garlic Baked Cod and Shrimp.
This redirection is just the most recent example of a new and refreshing industry trend. Consumers are coming to expect much more from their eateries, and the industry is responding — though some decidedly faster and more pervasively than others. Chipotle, founded on a principle of locally sourced ingredients, is on a mission to be GMO-free (or, Genetically Modified Organisms), slowly cutting menu items and ingredients that are genetically modified. Starbucks is similarly committed to ethically sourcing their coffee beans, tea, and cocoa from responsible, small growers around the world as well as reducing their carbon footprint.
In 2013, Starbucks bought a dying farm in Costa Rica suffering from a fungus that kills the trees producing arabica beans. It’s still losing money on that farm, but the coffee chain considers it important to help support and rebuild small farmers from diverse Middle American micro-climates to keep the industry from falling completely into the monopoly of cheap bean-produced Brazilian coffee plantations. It’s turning this farm, Hacienda Alsacia, into a playground for scientists to explore sustainable farming practices and new varieties as well as a research center focused on saving the arabica coffee plant from extinction. Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, says that they will share and teach what they learn to coffee farmers around Costa Rica and elsewhere. Yes, Starbucks is hoping to turn the first farm it ever actually owned into a profit-making enterprise to grow its own beans, but it shows a real dedication to corporate responsibility and ethics.
On the other side of the coin, we have McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD), which has come under intense scrutiny for their treatment of employees and the ingredients of their food. Consumers are demanding living wages and less “pink goop” of paste-like, mechanically separated meat in the burgers and chicken nuggets. In response, McDonalds is trying to convince consumers that it’s really not as bad as people think with press releases about services available to employees and videos taking official spokespeople into processing plants to bring consumers “behind the scenes.” Rather than rebooting and rebranding like Long John Silver’s, McDonalds is counting on its lovability and brand loyalty to smooth things over.
It’s becoming clear that there’s a gap fast-food is going to have to leap over to appease consumers and media attention, and the industry is likely going to see a big shift in coming years. It has already started with Chipotle, Starbucks, and now Long John Silver’s — but it’s becoming clearer that other chain restaurants are going to have to slim down and straighten up or get left behind.