I consider myself a red-blooded American male, but I have a confession to make. I have never set foot inside a Hooters restaurant. Timing was always bad when male friends gathered at one for a round of drinks. I sure never felt unselfconscious enough to drop by alone for a beer and plate of wings. And I knew I might have an uphill battle convincing my wife that we should have a family dinner there. However, I always assumed I was in the minority. This article in Advertising Age about a new campaign suggests otherwise.
There was a time that Hooters totally owned the tacky territory of well-endowed waitresses in skimpy uniforms. They even extended the brand briefly to an airline (no flotation device jokes, please) and to supermarkets with their signature brand of wings hot sauce.
Now, the market segment Hooters invented has a name — breastaurants — and the chain has smaller chain competitors in Twin Peaks and Tilted Kilt. Truth be told, there are very few male-dominated bars in America that don’t follow the Hooters hiring model in selecting waitstaff.
Incredibly, the new consortium of private-equity firms that owns Hooters since the death of its founder in 2006, has brought in a new management team with new ideas. Unfortunately, from the Ad Age story, it sounds like they may know the chain restaurant business, but not the dangers of tampering with brand equity. Hooters, if it can be believed, is in the process of reinventing itself. The chain wants to expand by appealing to “younger people and women” and by becoming “an option for more dining occasions” (maybe now I can convince my wife about family dinner).
But just wait a wing-dipping minute. First of all, you can’t be all things to all people. Hooters is a place guys go to drink and eat man cave food with buddies, while enjoying the politically incorrect outfits of the waitresses. Most women, other than Hooters waitresses, have a visceral reaction when they hear the name Hooters and would never consider entering the establishment unless it was as part of a pitchfork mob. How you suddenly convert this chain into a place for date night or another Dave and Buster’s or Olive Garden is beyond me.
So, whom did the chain turn to in order to tackle this seemingly impossible assignment? Their first lead agency, Fitzgerald & Co., and Jody Hill, the director of that HBO-exclusive Shakespearean drama “Eastbound and Down” have collaborated on new commercials that create an inner dialogue a potential customer might have in his head (or on his shoulder) between an angel owl and a devil owl reminding him of the virtues of Hooters. Sounds funny, and it is clever, but the results are edgy and still seem aimed at the male funny bone. Media buys on ESPN and Fox Sports also skew heavily toward the testosterone crowd.
I am pretty damned sure that this new campaign is not going to change anything in the minds of Hooters key demographic —guys who like to ogle while they eat and drink. The danger is that by adding 30 different salads and probably bringing in a decorator who likes ferns but not big screen TVs or just big Ts, the new management team could be tampering with Hooters DNA. If I didn’t know better, I’d say NYC Mayor Bloomberg was behind this politically correct plot. I promise to keep you updated on this tempest in a D cup.