ATLANTA: A small number of highly visible, highly successful – if sometimes risky – marketing initiatives, accompanied by a menu revamp, were instrumental in propelling Arby's, the QSR brand, to national prominence, according to a top executive.

Rob Lynch, Arby's chief marketing officer, told Marketing Land that when he joined, it had been clear the chain needed a menu overhaul and a new marketing vision.

But the start of the journey that has transformed the fortunes of the sandwich chain over the past few years came about almost by accident, when an expanded social listening facility picked up a resemblance between the hat Pharrell Williams made famous at the 2014 Grammy Awards and the brand's own logo. The resulting Twitter conversation between brand and artist went viral.

"We started breaking into conversations happening about our brand already," said Lynch, an approach typified by its video compilation of all the times Jon Stewart had taken a dig at the brand during his time as host of The Daily Show. "This really went against the traditional marketing philosophy to protect your brand at all costs," observed Lynch.

A similarly counter-intuitive approach was evident in the Vegetarian Support Program which helped launch a new bacon product.

"After a few of these wins, our franchisees voted unanimously to shift dollars from local to national marketing," Lynch explained.

"So we scaled down local teams and shifted those resources to national marketing platforms — TV, digital, social, activation, public relations, etc.

"We moved from three national programs to four, then six last year, to eight this year. Next year we'll do ten."

And the new approach appears to be paying off, as Lynch reported that Arby's is now one now one of the fasting-growing restaurant companies in the industry with more than double the average industry growth.

"And our average restaurant revenue has gone from $880k in 2013 to $1.15m today."

Data sourced from Marketing Land; additional content by Warc staff