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A Summer Like No Other

Should summer promos be different this year?

Article by
Charlie Hopper
Principal, Writer
Young & Laramore
Placeholder Image A summer like no other latest image

Every summer the promos emerge, cicada-like (I’m talking the normal, every-summer kind of cicada here).

Question: this year should your summer promos be special, unusual, more Brood-X-seventeen-year-cicada-ish? We all just went through quarantine, and it did feel like we spent years and years underground, burrowing slowly upward, starting around March 2020.

Obviously, for something major to be ready now, it had to be in the works a while ago. Back when this summer’s promos were being hatched, I imagine there was so much uncertainty, marketing teams opted to play it safe.

In fact, here is a partial list of current, pretty-much-normal (pandemic? what pandemic?) summer promo plans I got from a site that aggregates restaurant promotions as a kind of wiki-like service:

  • Arby’s – ice cream floats and chicken salad (summery!)
  • Burger King – new hand-breaded crispy chicken (why not) and cheesy tots (summer fun!)
  • Carl’s Jr../Hardee’s – Steakhouse Angus Thickburger and Really Big Carl are back (for those not thinking about swimsuits) and a new Fiery Menu (summer heat)
  • Chick-fil-A – new Lemon Kale Caesar Salad (for those who ARE thinking about swimsuits)
  • Dairy Queen – [they have new ideas, but c’mon, what’s more summer-centric than whatever DQ’s got goin’]

There’s more, obviously; you can tell the list was alphabetical and I just grabbed names off the top—my point is, is there anything *special* that could be done? This is a once-in-a-lifetime (oh my gosh, I hope that’s true) chance to make this summer about America’s release from quarantine.


What can we do on short notice? To stand out from the crowd?

Here’s a few brainstorms. Ignore them. Gaze at them like a curious entomologist. Endure my throbbing, incessant noise. Whatever you want to do—it’s summertime, and if you got vaxxed the livin’ is ever-closer to “easy.”

1. Promote Out-of-the-Houseness

Concerts. Sports Tournaments. Nice, open, airy get-togethers in common spaces near your restaurants—obviously a task for the Local Store Marketing team, but you could get them some materials for it.

Sponsor festivals. Get your logo on banners out there in your regions. Celebrate liberation from the living room couch—and tell people that’s what you’re doing.

POP-UP SUMMER (BRAIN)STORM: I have an idea for a restaurant-branded mask (masks are still recommended by the CDC at the time of this writing, ever-cautious since this is a “novel” virus). In the middle would be a zipper: unzip, poke in a French fry or straw, zip back up as you chew/savor. Is your restaurant’s brand personality such that your logo would look good on something like that? Give it a whirl. Imagine a socially distanced crowd in lawn chairs in the evening, watching a local band on the courthouse square, the more prudent town residents wearing one of these and reaching into your carryout bag for chicken nuggets—unzipping, re-zipping, savoring, repeating. Each mask with your name in the lower right-hand corner?

Just an idea. A goofy, summer-after-quarantine idea.

2. Promote Go-Homeness

Keep that carryout momentum going! Nobody wants to cook in the summer—make home meal replacement sooooo easy that your fans cave and leave their groceries “one more day” in the fridge. Maybe there’s a discount for carryout, maybe there’s a deal that’s carryout-only?

POP-UP SUMMER (BRAIN)STORM: To really chip away at those home meals that are kind of drudgery-esque in the summer, and help people feel like they’ve been “sprung” from isolation, maybe you can bundle up a picnic to-go. Include a logo-branded Frisbee®. A few of those Off® mosquito-repellant wipes. Discount admission to a nearby state park. Whatever seems affordable and reinforces how much fun it is to be out, about, and eating from bags with your name on them.

3. Promote Your Merch

Time to confer with your local tchotchke vendor, with the goal of “celebrate both this summer AND last summer all at once”—get your name on those little battery-op personal fans that blow a mist. Get your name on one of those shade-maker things for the soccer team you’ll be sponsoring. Remember when you used to have to collect proof-of-purchase seals (or “a reasonable facsimile”) as a kid to earn merch? Have logo-fied summer-fun things available in exchange for a certain number of burger wrappers. Eh.

POP-UP SUMMER (BRAIN)STORM: I’m thinking commemorative T-shirts. “Summer 2021. Here to make up for Summer 2020.” or “Let’s Celebrate Two Summers at Once! Summer 20/21” Your logo on the back, or the sleeves. Or you could modify it with your summer promo: “DQ Dreamsicle® Aficionado” (that’s one of their promos) in large type with the 2021/2020 message small, beneath the logo wherever it appears. Gather your designer friends to work on layouts.

4. Promote Road Trips

A subset of carryout is specifically-travelling-in-a-car accoutrement: emphasis on portability and, for the driver, one-hand-ability. Oh, and there’s never enough cupholders, what can you do for that? Then there’s the trash (my son’s car always has a bunch of cups and bags rolling around the back seat floor). It’s all rich territory for innovations, and I’m sure you’ve been over it.

Can you make your innovations road-trip specific? Cardboard holders that hook onto the window-crack to hold that milkshake treat long enough to polish off the cola in your regular cupholder? Or, hm, you probably don’t want your name on a “trash bag” but can you make optional drive-thru bags large enough to serve the purpose, maybe with a little suggestion printed there that says, “OFFICIAL ROAD TRIP EQUIPMENT. When you’re done enjoying what’s in this bag, use the bag to hold what’s left ’til you get to your next stop.” You could probably be more clever than that.

POP-UP SUMMER (BRAIN)STORM: Could you curate a summer playlist? The [YOUR BRAND] Summer Road Trip Mix. Could be done on short notice—ask an intern to advise you (remember how into music you were at their age?). Then talk to your Muzak rep on how to legally execute.

5. Promote That Summer Attitude

I know you’re having trouble finding in-store labor, at least at the time of this writing, but once you’ve got ’em what can you do to put them in a good mood? Help them naturally pass along vacay-breeziness to the customer? Nothing is less “yay, quarantine’s loosening” than downcast, glum, fearful-of-being-berated team members scuttling around on the front line.

POP-UP SUMMER (BRAIN)STORM: Invite customers to text you for a quick survey. Give workers time off or a bonus to the two employees each week who get (1) the highest number points, and (2) the best “verbatims.” Maybe even tell your patrons what’s up—“The ‘You Tell Us’ Server-of-the-Summer Survey” or something. (What’s the grand prize? Frankly, besides money and time off, I’m stumped. Your guest-facing friends almost certainly either want money or time off.)

In any case, we’re all emerging from our shells, all over America. Greet us! Make us remember how great it is to be eating your food, believing in the myth of the endless summer until the final chord of the last Beach Boys’ song fades into a back-to-school daze. Like a short-lived Brood X cicada looking for a friend, our chance to do summer right is now and it won’t last long. Bust out those last-minute promo ideas!

Charlie Hopper, Principal, Writer at Y&L

Over the past 30-something years, Charlie’s played many roles at Y&L, including writer, principal, general enthusiast and creative director on Steak ’n Shake during its heyday at the agency. He is also the author of Selling Eating: Restaurant Marketing Beyond the Word “Delicious.”