‘Bold Move’: 5 Questions With White Castle CMO Kim Bartley


White Castle Bold Move

The way Kim Bartley sees it, it’s about time for White Castle and its slider tradition to get its due for defining the modern fast-food industry—and for its slider innovation to get more attention from customers while satisfying their cravings.

The 96-year-old White Castle brand is launching its most significant shift in messaging in about two decades with a new campaign titled “Bold Move.” The home of The Original Slider is embracing its loyal fans, known as “Cravers,” and also highlighting some of the bold innovations from White Castle over the years, including “inspired flavors, rich colors, dynamic food and humor,” as the company puts it.

Spurring a brand refresh, the new campaign spans every consumer touchpoint including TV and radio advertising, social and digital media, point of sale messaging, new packaging, updated uniforms and a revamped menu.

The 30-second version of the “Bold Move” spot above passed 1.2 million views in 24 hours of being posted on its YouTube channel. There are also 15-second and 60-second versions which highlight slightly different things, like its grilled and crispy chicken sandwich items:

“Our loyal customers are the inspiration for Bold Move,” stated Lynn Blashford, White Castle vice president of marketing, in a press release. “The new expression is about embracing uniqueness, making a statement and taking bold action something our Craver community exemplifies.”

brandchannel spoke with Chief Marketing Officer Kim Bartley about the pioneering brand that was started in 1921 by Billy Ingram and whose CEO today is his great-granddaughter, Lisa Ingram. Bartley has been CMO for about two years but has run White Castle’s marketing for 26 years.

bc: Why emphasize “boldness” in this new campaign? What consumer research led you to that?

Kim Bartley CMO chief marketing officer White CastleKim Bartley: It’s not just about the research that we did. It embodies the direction that a lot of young people and our long-time customers feel about why they embrace White Castle. It’s not your average, everyday hamburger experience. It’s a very different type of restaurant physically as well as the product being sliders. We’ve been around for 96 years, which contributes to that uniqueness and boldness for the brand. We were the first; it starts there.

White Castle Bold Move campaign

bc: What other bold moves has the brand made that you’re acknowledging with this campaign?

Bartley: We’ve been the first to test a lot of things that the big guys get credit for. Years ago we had the first website in the QSR business. We also have been testing kiosks for more than four years. We put alcohol in our restaurants in testing and did delivery tests a few years ago. We pretty much look at our consumer—and look at them a lot—and ask what’s the next bold move they’re going to make, in their personal life as well as their eating habits?

White Castle Bold Move campaign

bc: Why has it taken this long for another brand shift?

Bartley: Well, the “What You Crave” campaign embodied what many people feel about food. Then for about five years we moved it to, “The Crave Is a Powerful Thing.” We stayed with “crave” because it’s definitely a foodie word.

But consumers’ relationships with restaurant brands go well beyond the food. They want to have what they do and where they go from an experience standpoint reflect them personally, and “Bold Move” connects with consumers in terms of how they view themselves when they view why they come to White Castle.

They know we’re not the mainstream, on-every-street-corner brand. So it doesn’t matter if they’re 95 years old or five years old, they know they’ll have something different. We think “Bold Move” helps them express it.

bc: Where does the slider fit into the fast-food panorama these days? Do millennials like them? Can you promote small portions? 

Bartley: I look at it through the lens that our founder was a genius in that he identified the flexibility that a small hamburger sandwich would have in the American diet. In 1921, people didn’t eat hamburger meat. It took off in the 50’s and 60’s with other chains. But what was incredibly unique about his thought was that a woman could eat the product and have two or three and be satisfied and a man might have to eat more.

It also was driven by price. Back then everything was a nickel, for an Eskimo Pie, a Coke or for a White Castle. So today’s younger people embrace aspects of just the general population that we just grew up with, as when you move away from home and start to have to find ways to manage your budget and get to experiment with new foods.

We’ve always fit into that lifestyle change, whether in college or right out of high school starting your life. The nostalgic nature of how we fit into your life continues into adulthood with families as you have young children.

White Castle Bold Move campaign

bc: Fast-food is a tough business these days, with the lunch daypart suffering in particular. How has White Castle experienced and reacted to that?

Bartley: There’s a benefit to not being on every street corner and that does cause people to have that feeling of the crave. So from that perspective, fewer of our customers are shopping around for a substitute.

But in today’s environmenet where consumers are concerned about costs, everyone is trying to figure out a way to help customers with their budget and help our team members have an enjoyable life and provide them with what they need. It’s a work challenge.

But as far as lunch is concerned, White Castle sells all its products seven days a week, 24 hours a day. We feel that through variety, where it depends on what time of day in today’s work, schedules change; people can eat and have always eaten White Castle for breakfast. We were built for 24-hour shift work and that environment.

We’ve been able to weather a lot of changes in the economy and how people eat simply because we’re flexible. And we’ve added more products such as a veggie slider for other kinds of meal occasions. We fit with a party or a small snack. So the benefits of what our founder decided as his first incredible bold move still applies. We just have to figure out a way to continually keep our brand top of  mind.

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