Earls Lobster Event

Events, Seasonal and Short-Term (GOLD)

Client Credits: Earls Restaurants
Monique Gomel, VP of Marketing
Taili Coates, Marketing Manager

Agency Credits: Leo Burnett
Judy John, Chief Creative Officer
Judy John, Creative Director
Lisa Greenberg, Creative Director
Sam Cerullo, Group Creative Director
Marty Hoefkes, Copywriter
Mike Morelli, Art Director
Mike Morelli, Designer
Lorenda Bennett, Print Producer
France Piacenta, Broadcast Producer
David Kennedy, SVP Account Management
Allison Ballantyne, Group Account Director
Angelica Bennett, Accout Executive
Brent Nelson, VP of Strategic Planning
Cimmeron Kirk, Digital Project Manager
Lyndsay Cattermole, Project Manager
Devyn Perry, Starcom Media Planner

Attached Files

EARLS_Lobster.pdf (19 MB)

Total 1399 Words


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):October 2012
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: October 1, 2012
Base Period as a Benchmark: October 2011

a) Overall Assessment

Earls is a premium casual restaurant chain that has been in Canada for over 30 years.  It started in 1982 when its founders, Bus and Stan, opened up a beer and burger joint in Edmonton.  Their signature item was the Bigger Better Burger.  And it lived up to its promise, delivering upscale food and service in an environment best described as West Coast Casual.   While a pioneer in the upscale casual category, Earls was now suffering from a lack of distinctiveness and lack consistency in their communication.  Opening the door for more competition and eroding Earls’ market share.  

The Challenge: Reinvigorating the brand and its cash register

Acknowledging that they had become a little tired in the eyes of their consumers and within the organization itself, in 2012 Earls brought our agency on-board to help refresh the brand.  The challenge was steep.  At the time, only 2% of consumers were loyal to Earls.   As we got to know Earls' primary ‘fun-loving socializing’ target audience, it became clear to us that Earls' target is motivated by new consumption experiences in their everyday life.  Therefore Earls had to not only make a change in their communication approach, but also in the way they behaved as an organization.  So it made sense to start by reinvigorating one of Earls' oldest promotion -Earls' annual Lobster Event, which began ten years ago. 

b) Resulting Business Objectives

The Lobster Event had recently experienced year-over-year decline, so any bump in sales was going to be measured as success in Earls’ eyes (no specific target was provided by the organization). The three sales categories that would be measured were:

- increase in overall sales vs. last year

- increase in lobster sales vs. last year

- increase in Alexander Keith’s beer sales vs. last year

The second objective was to build internal alignment to the new way of marketing. Earls has been marketing this event locally over the past several years because there was a belief that the national marketing department could not coordinate an event this large across the system.  This program would prove to be a pivotal moment for the new marketing department. 

Source: Earls Restaurants Program Brief

c) Annual Media Budget
$100,000 - $200,000

d) Geographic Area
Canada - BC, AB, SK, MB, ONT

a) Analysis and Insight

The Insight: Lobster can be intimidating

To understand how to improve sales during the promotion while reinforcing the irreverent personality of the Earls brand, we probed how our target perceived this food. They saw a lobster dinner as a pricey, high-end affair, and one that could be a bit stuffy. More important, a high proportion of the target admitted they didn't have much experience eating lobster: they saw it as hard to eat and down-right intimidating. Therefore to reinvigorate Earls' annual Lobster Event, we had to breakthrough in a new way.  We couldn’t apply the traditional retail advertising that focused solely on the food and price. Instead, we brought forward an experiential campaign focused on making Lobster a fun experience of eating Lobster as an experience - and one that should be fun.  This type of approach was exactly what the Earls target audience was looking for.  It encouraged sociability and the fresh approach connected with their desire to be a part of something new.

b) Communication Strategy

The Plan: The "How-To" on eating Lobster

If this was going to be a hands-on event, then we felt our communication strategy had to be hands-on and interactive as well.   Therefore, both our main message and media choices were motivated around this interactive idea of ‘snap’, ‘twist’ and ‘pull’.  Furthermore, we developed a ‘tool kit’ of in-store interactive collateral to activate Earls’ staff at the restaurant to truly bring the hands-on spirit of this campaign to life in an experiential way.  It was important that Earls walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

a) Media Used



      Wild postings


      Menu page

      Washroom posters

      Pull-tab billfold insert (given to you with your bill)

      Fortune cookie Lobster claws with promotional messaging

      Bib (given to you when you eat your lobster)

b) Creative Discussion

Creative: breaking down the intimidation barrier to make lobster fun

The fundamental keys to the creative approach for this campaign were ease and approachability.  Therefore the design focused on simple, eye-catching graphics and Earls’ brand colours were used in a warm and inviting way. The repetitive graphic treatment through all the touch points drove clarity and comprehension while the hands-on language of ‘snap’, ‘twist’ and ‘pull’ helped break the process down even further and played up the fun of the meal. 

However it was the activation of these instructions that truly broke down the intimidation barrier for consumers in both external and retail advertising mediums.   The wild postings let consumers practice their ‘pulling’ skills.  While claw-cracking was taught by street teams handing out red fortune cookies to promote the event.  In-restaurant, billfolds were executed and consumers were asked to ‘bend’ the lobster tail to reveal more simple tips.  All of this activity happened in the ten days leading up to the event.  And by the time consumers attended the event, an instructional plastic bib was waiting with step-by-step directions on how best to eat lobster.  Consumers were compelled to wear it, creating a fun socializing event where they could get hands-on with their lobster. 

Overall the campaign idea made the Lobster Event approachable and sophisticated -which are both inherent to the brand.  This was the first time in a really long time that Earls' marketing had developed a nationally advertised event that all restaurants across the organization could participate in.  Allowing the brand to stand united in communication and effort, it ultimately signaling to their target that there were more engaging and innovative things lying ahead. 

c) Media Discussion

Media: Small but smart

As we were required to advertise in all markets that had an Earls location, (big or small, excluding the US), we had to be smart with our limited budget.  By choosing a single medium strategy, OOH, we were able to get adequate coverage in all markets and geo-target in close proximity to Earls restaurants and competitors to maximize effectiveness.  The OOH medium also allowed us to feature all three creative executions simultaneously, giving a dominating affect in key transit areas and cinema.  Finally, the innovative and interactive nature of the wild postings allowed consumers to ‘pull a claw’ – a pull-tab of information about the event underscoring the instructional aspect of the campaign.   This single medium strategy was complemented with a decision to do a short, ten day pre-promotion burst to optimize our media spend and effort to apex at the start of the three day promotional window. 

a) Sales/Share Results

Results: Red hot lobster sales delivered

In the words of the client, “The 2012 lobster event was by far the most successful in history”.  First, it ignited the organization. In previous years, it was difficult to get marketing and operational alignment.  Based on sharing the creative campaign and media plans early with Earls’ internal stakeholders, operations showed their support by ordering 82% more lobster inventory than the year before.  This is a significant investment and bold statement of confidence based on only a creative presentation deck.  And did they ever make the right decision. 

-          Even with the increased inventory, many restaurants sold out before the end of the 3-day event. 

-          Same-store lobster sales were up +111% vs last year (sales figures are comparable stores only and do not reflect new store openings)

-          Earls promotional partner, Alexander Keith’s, experienced a 54% lift in sales

-          Further, it increased total sales throughout the restaurant: At the conclusion of the event period, Earls had experienced an overall 3.27% sales increase vs. last year. 

Across the board, this is the best promotional program Earls had experienced in years.  But equally as important, this program help set a new partnership foundation between the marketing and operations departments at Earls.

Source: Earls Restaurants

b) Consumption/ Usage Results

c) Other Pertinent Results

d) Return on Investment

a) General Discussion

The 2012 Lobster Event product (1.5 pound fresh lobster with prawns and sides) was exactly the same product, at exactly the same price as the previous year.  The same geographical footprint was used to measure the results.  The amount of spend on promotional material was also the same. The only difference was the creative approach, and for this reason we can say it was the advertising that produced superior results. 

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels:

See explanation in General Discussion above.


Results in this case are not a result of a price change.

Distribution Changes:

Results in this case are not a result of distribution changes.  Results are shown on a same-store basis.

Unusual Promotional Activity:

See explanation in General Discussion above.

Other Potential Causes:

See explanation in General Discussion above.