Holy Cow! An Interesting Chick-fil-a Marketing Strategy


While rummaging through my 6-thousand subscriptions, slight exaggeration, on my Feedly I stumbled upon (discovery engine pun) this link to an interesting Chick-fil-A marketing strategy:

“Come dressed like a cow from head to hoof and we’ll reward you with a FREE meal. (If you’re a little chicken, don’t worry, a partial costume still receives a free entrée.) And calves in costumes get free meals too; so bring in the whole herd for some family fun.”

Surely by its seventh year you’ve heard about Cow Appreciation Day? Chick-fil-A Senior Vice President of Marketing Steven Robinson stated, “It takes a loyal fan to dress like a cow for a free meal.”

It’s true, no self-respecting sophisticated businessperson would dare step in public wearing a makeshift utter and face-paint, much less in a fast food joint. Right? It’s certainly an…interesting concept, yet the Chick-fil-a marketing strategy seems to be working.

First, it’s a paradigm breaking, branding idea.

One of my recent “reading project,” as I like to call it (as a “book” cannot be read that slow), is WIN by Dr. Frank I. Luntz. Although I wouldn’t describe it as a self-help book, which is what my mother probably thought it was when she bought it for my birthday, it does offer advice for being successful. Number 2 of the “Nine P’s of Winning” is paradigm breaking, or dramatically changing the way we think and live. Paradigm breaking ideas are those that do not improve the game, but change it and set the tone for the other players.

What stuck out to me about the idea, and the chapter, was an interview with Steve Wynn about how he conceptualized his fourth hotel, Wynn, deciding that he would take a different route to attracting visitors:

“‘What’s more powerful than a ship sinking or a volcano erupting or fountains dancing? Curiosity! Mystery! You build a fence and any kid worth a nickel will climb it to see what’s on the other side. We’ll build a giant mountain that hides the place, but we’ll leave a hole in the fence that says ‘Enter Here.’” And so we did.”

Steve Wynn realized it’s the hotel, the product itself that works, and getting them in the door could be as simple as playing off people’s curiosity.

I’m not saying that creating an unofficial cow-honoring holiday is the same as marketing a 2.7 billion dollar resort. Rather, it’s the innovation in both marketing strategies that “gives the cold shoulder” so to speak to the gurus and experts clinging to their by-the-book approaches to catching our attention. Cow Appreciation Day is new, fresh, interesting, and fun. It’s an event that breaks the mold of fast food chain marketing, taking a walk on the wild side and a big step compared to others. Wendy’s did something interesting when they launched their Berry Almond Chicken Salad in Berryville, Virginia. Sure, that’s clever, and I’ll remember the commercial for a while; but, try persuading my girlfriend to dress up like a cow for a free chicken sandwich. That I have to see.

Secondly, it gives us what we want.

The Wynn hotel is not a rundown ol’ shanty. Steve Wynn has a reputation for great hotels, and of course the credibility of his products (his hotels) plays a major role in their success.

Chick-fil-A is delectable, and it has built a reputation for being somewhat healthy (another genius Chick-fil-a marketing strategy by Robinson). People are not going to throw on bib-overalls and chew straw for a free barbeque sandwich from Uncle Pete’s BBQ (just pretend like that doesn’t sound delicious). Chick-fila-A chicken tastes good (an opinion, of course).

And, it’s free. No other word comes close to attracting as much attention as the word “free” (okay, so maybe that word). Pair “free” with a product that we all love, throw in a little branding, and we will…well, we will dress up like a cow and hoof through the doors!

Finally, the Chick-fil-a marketing strategy is done right.

Cow Appreciation Day has a website, a Twitter, a Facebook fan page, a Smart Phone app, The Best Cow Costume Photo Contest, an email list for the ‘Email Insiders,” Running of the Cows, a promotional video, countless news and press releases, and partnerships with Heinz and Dr. Pepper. It seems like someone from the marketing team rolled into the office on a Monday morning, still dragging from the previous week, sarcastically suggested a “Cow Day” and everyone laughed hysterically coming up with all the stuff they could do on it. Thank goodness creepy Larry in the back corner wrote it all down! (Have I lost you yet?)

Shaky marketing concept or not, Chick-fil-A has implemented all the effective publicity strategies for their bovine bonanza (it’s definitely bedtime). Last year a reported 300,000-some people showed up to a Chick-fil-A dressed in cow paraphernalia. What are you betting that at least a few of them came back soon after (on a non-free-food day, I might add)?

In conclusion?

Of course, I’m not in the heads of the clear cow-loving marketers over at Chick-fil-A, but the logic behind this Chick-fil-a marketing strategy does seem…logical.

  • Dressing like a cow brings less-bold friends to laugh, mock, and buy food
  • Dressing like a cow does help raise awareness about how delicious the food really is
  • Dressing like a cow does foster brand loyalty
  • And, dressing like a cow is funny

At least Cow Appreciation Day is fun for Chick-fil-A employees. Let’s hope the next Chick-fil-a marketing strategy is “stay open on Sunday.”

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Little about me.

A writer and graphic designer by education, and a self-titled “digital guru” by training, I currently moonlight with my own freelance business, where I assist small businesses and start-ups with website set-up and supplementary design services.

What is digital marketing?

Digital marketing, Internet marketing, or online marketing are all synonymous umbrella terms for a bundle of marketing techniques that utilize electronic media: search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), social media networking, and content marketing (to name a few).

The primary goal of digital marketing is to engage customers through engaging, interesting, and high quality content, allowing them to interact with your brand and allowing you to increase customer retention, credibility, and, ultimately, your bottom line.

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