When traveling back home from Hinesville, Georgia over Thanksgiving weekend, Melanie, Eddie, Peter, and I stopped for dinner at an Arby’s tucked away in an oversized truck-stop gas station. I was there introduced to Arby’s (Arby’s’?) latest campaign, which plays off of the recent trend in fast food to offer $5 deals of some kind or another. (Not long ago, I read a very interesting story about the $5 foot-long Subway campaign, whose astronomical success is credited with inspiring many other eateries to offer similar deals that capitalize on the magic five-dollar mark. Unfortunately, I no longer have a link to the story.) Arby’s, however, has chosen to up the ante by offering $5.01 combos, because as the sign on the restaurant’s door informs you, they’re worth the extra penny.
OK, sure. I guess that’s clever. But really, the take-home message that I get from these cutesy little ads is that Arby’s is petty, annoying, and full of itself. Presuming that they reign supreme on the fast-food front, Arby’s is going to rub it in my face that they charge more than the other guys, all the while smiling and reminding me that, hey, it’s only a penny, so I’ve got no room to complain?!? It’s like tacking a $.01 privilege-to-eat-at-Arby’s fee onto every meal, a fee that I’m supposed to feel honored to pay! I suppose Arby’s expects their customers to feel like they’re getting something so much better than McDonald’s at the cost of a mere penny, which is basically nothing. But I don’t like the none-too-subtle implication that because my penny is so worthless to me, I might as well donate it to Arby’s for being God’s gift to the fast-food industry. As Melanie observed, taking one piddling penny extra from every customer is bound to make a noticeable difference at the end of the fiscal day for Arby’s. And something about the way Arby’s is going about getting this extra penny strikes me as incredibly smug.
But it gets worse…
Take a gander at the below advertisement, which doubled as my placemat but which I decided to keep as evidence of Arby’s’ self-importance. As if Arby’s’ campaign wasn’t condescending enough, they’ve gone through all the trouble of printing coupons for $.01 off their combo meals. The message: sure, we’ll let you get a combo meal here at Arby’s for the same price that you’d pay elsewhere, but not without belittling you by making you go through the effort of tearing out a coupon and presenting it to our cashier , making it absolutely clear to us that you’re pathetic enough to deserve that penny. In the end, you can either embarrass yourself by actually using the coupon, or you can strive to keep your dignity by silently assenting to the $.01 privilege-to-eat-at-Arby’s fee. It’s as if their smugness has just become the cheddar to our beef faces … by which I mean that they are metaphorically rubbing their smugness in our faces much in the way that they non-metaphorically smear cheddar sauce all over the roast beef in their Beef n’ Cheddar sandwiches … which I guess isn’t too funny when you have to explain it. Regardless, even if we overlook the apparent smugness of this campaign, Arby’s’ $.01 coupons threaten to undermine the entire point they are trying to drive home. One could easily interpret these coupons as Arby’s’ way of saying, “OK, we won’t really charge you a penny more! That was just a joke. We’re not really worth it, and we know it, but the campaign wouldn’t work unless we actually charged an extra penny, so we did. But see these coupons? That’s our way of saying just kidding! Nobody really has to pay an extra penny!” Does the stupidity of this campaign ever end?
I do admit, though, I have to laugh at the official coupon jargon found in the small print of these coupons. Not valid with any other coupon or offer? I guess I’ll have to choose between $.01 off my $5.01 combo meal, or a buy one get one free combo meal. Hmmm, tough choice. And what’s that? Only one coupon per customer per visit? That truly is a shame, for otherwise I might find it well worthwhile saving up 501 coupons and getting myself a free combo meal. Now that I might do.