Anyone who has spent time around marketing in the last 10 years knows that the traditional marketer seems to feel horribly out of his element in our digital world. Confronted with the fact that independent millennials with no dependents spend at least an hour a day more on digital devices rather than watching broadcast television, these few old hands have bravely pioneered into the wild depths of this new land open before them: Facebook. Corporate social media marketing has always been somewhat of a crapshoot- ineffective strategies combined with a lack of understanding of what content makes a social media feed effective has meant that for every Denny’s, who have managed to craft a surrealistic and entertaining social media presence on youth targeted platforms, you have countless others asking people to “like” for individual shampoo and conditioner or “share” for a 2-in-1. BGR The Burger Joint, punctuation evidently unnecessary, falls into the latter category. Despite everything they seem to be aiming for with their social media presence, their work seems to fall flat on its face. In this essay, we will examine the content, tone, and overall message conveyed by every single Facebook post made by BGR over the span of the previous six months in order to examine what I see as its failings in engagement.
The goal of a restaurant is, fundamentally, to make a food product that is worth more than its ingredient cost to a patron. This is accomplished through a variety of means- hiring skilled cooks and chefs, sourcing unique or rare ingredients, or even using additives to create food that surpasses its “natural” equivalents. However, the main problem is all of this is that few people will visit a restaurant they have heard nothing about- and the best way to fix this dilemma for a restaurant who can’t stand on the merits of its food itself is marketing. BGR’s social media team seems to have brought their methodology of food marketing down to a “science”- a relatively attractive photo of a burger, combined with a supposedly pithy quote. For example, one photo depicts a grilled chicken burger combined with the quote “‘I’m kind of a big meal’- Grilled Chicken Sandwich”.
BGR seems to mostly have not thought to branch beyond this sort of content- with the exception of the occasional image with text in it, usually describing a piece of food that’s also pictured, the whole thing is remarkably, or perhaps understandably, formulaic. Such repetition, other than the occasional announcement of closure on holidays, leaves posts with around zero to five likes, with outliers hitting ten at best. Looking over the photos, the two most featured items appear to be through an admittedly unscientific analysis to be their burgers, for obvious reasons, followed closely by their milkshakes. Said milkshakes also get a prominent place in the physical restaurant, getting their own section of the posted menu as well as their own featured spot at the checkout counter- strange for a restaurant not known for them. Getting into the analysis of the text itself, the entire thing, much like the food, is remarkably bland- simply urging the reader to give in to the indulgence of buying a hamburger or milkshake, or otherwise make them consider eating one of their food products. The pictures are mostly shot from the side to accentuate the large volumes of ingredients going into this meat-filled sandwiches, and they also take the time to laud their ingredients as high quality, something most of this class of restaurant seem to do on a regular basis- claiming everything from having “sushi grade Ahi tuna” to “the mostly perfectly crisp fries you can find around”. Tellingly, the term “sushi grade” is entirely unregulated in the United States, making it mostly marketing speak to upsell a fish. In any case, having plumbed the actual content in depth, it’s now time to address the gestalt of the matter: what are they trying to convey?
Most restaurants try to cultivate an experience of sorts through their marketing, decor, and product lines. Take the Starbucks chain, for example: everything from the modern design of the furniture to the abstract wall art and free-flowing espresso is meant to cultivate an air of culturedness and refinement that does not match the fact that it is effectively a bourgeois McDonald’s. McDonald’s itself has relied on a combination of nostalgia marketing, including a relatively successful campaign attempting to bridge the McNuggets of yesteryear to the modern day, and an attempt to modernize the decor of their restaurants to more match the style of something, ironically, like Starbucks. BGR The Burger Joint is a bit more of an enigma to say the least. The store itself is stark and barren- seemingly attempting to cultivate a sort of “hole-in-the-wall”-chic
that they might feel appeals to a younger crowd more concerned with “authenticity,” a ultra-common buzzword when it comes to marketing in relation to millennials. The restaurant seems to want to become a sort of local institution- the kind of place your average 20 to 30 year old goes with his friends for a wholesome burger. They say as much in a post, combined with a picture of multiple people at one table, stating “Friends that eat burgers together are more likely to remain friends. Grab a friend or two and head our way”. BGR, in general, attempts to project a bit of a playful attitude- making comments about onion rings being healthy because “they are a vegetable, right?” to urging people to “put a ring on it” in regards to a picture of a burger with a side of onion rings. The overabundance of onion ring related humor aside, their marketers generally want to not only validate BGR as something more than a horribly generic burger chain with two minor awards to its name, but also to reinforce that their quality is a cut above the rest. They remind us that their burgers are “consistently delicious”, have commented on the meaningless “sushi-grade” quality of their tuna four separate times since August 10th of last year, and use their header space to proudly proclaim that they were voted “#1 Burger by MSN & Washingtonian Magazine” in 2015. Now that we know what they’re trying to convey through their messaging, it’s finally time to get to the heart of the matter- what is BGR’s message in all of this?
While perhaps it may be considered reading too much into too little, all places, to some degree or another, have their own rhetoric. From the authority and tradition transmitted by the neoclassical US Capitol, the political heart of a country less than 300 years old, to the down-home accessibility of your average diner, there are clear motives in most places built for purposes beyond mere survival. While examining the rhetoric of place through a social media account is perhaps something that would come off as fallacious, the corporate nature of its existence means that there’s often not much difference between the information conveyed by a social media feed and the idealized image a business wants portrayed of itself. Overall, the image BGR The Burger Joint wants so desperately to convey is one of hipness- relevance beyond being a subpar burger chain with a couple of easily disregardable local awards. BGR does not just want financial success- any incredibly bland takeout place can stay above water with the right location- BGR wants social relevance. Everything, from their attempt to decorate their interior as sort of a nostalgic late 80s/early 90s throwback with a matching soundtrack to a somewhat pitiful attempt at “social media engagement,” screams at an attempt to somehow be cooler than a restaurant chain started by a mildly successful chef but owned by a corporate investment firm is likely to ever be. In the end, BGR suffers from a tragic case of “trying too hard”- an overwrought attempt at being cool that singularly defines everything in life that does not scream cool to the youth audience everyone so desperately covets.
It can be seen that BGR’s social media presence is strongly formulaic, spends an inordinate amount of time attempting to signal the quality of their product, and is ultimately targeted at an attempt to achieve an atmosphere of “coolness,” and by extension quality, presently beyond their grasp. While this may not be considered a great revelation- most businesses targeting consumers want to be “cool” to some degree- it says a lot that a burger place, a place whose main popularity is its deep roots in American tradition, still feels the need to advertise how cool and modern they are compared to whatever competitor they see themselves punching up at. While ultimately BGR probably doesn’t care much about their social media presence, the fact they have it at all and believe it’s adequate either says a lot about how much money they’re putting into it, or how trusting their advertising executive is. Either way, this is the first step into the depths that is BGR The Burger Joint- we have only scratched at the surface of this rich vein of inquiry.