Arby's this week took competitive sparring in the QSR space to new heights, promoting its new Spicy Fish Sandwich with a diss track by rapper Pusha T aimed at McDonald's and its Filet-O-Fish sandwich. The track — in which Pusha claims "a little cube of fish from a clown is basic" — is the Inspire Brands' chain's latest attempt to generate buzz by integrating itself into pop culture.
"We have this maverick spirit and that's consistent with the authenticity of our brand, which gives us pretty broad latitude to participate in unexpected ways," Arby's CMO Patrick Schwing told Marketing Dive.
Apart from a brief period early in the pandemic, competitive sparring has been the default mode for QSRs, especially from challenger brands punching up at industry leaders. Taking shots at a competitor over the flavor and freshness of their food is nothing new — even in the form of diss tracks, which Wendy's used back in 2018 — but rarely has a QSR tapped a brand ambassador as notable as Pusha T to do its bidding.
Pusha T, a 44-year-old rapper known for his detail-driven drug raps, is no stranger to diss tracks; his 2018 attack on Drake, "The Story of Adidon," infamously alerted the public that the superstar was "hiding a child." The Virginia Beach talent is also no stranger to QSR marketing. Pusha has said that he wrote McDonald's iconic "I'm Lovin' It" jingle, and while the claim has been disputed, he makes oblique reference to the brand with the lyric "I'm the reason the whole world love it" on the diss track.
While Pusha's selection may be a bold choice for a brand-building exercise, authenticity is key — as the many marketers that have tied up with hip-hop musicians have learned. In that way, Pusha's "Spicy Fish Diss Track" rings true, as he raps lines like, "How dare you sell a square fish asking us to trust it / A half slice of cheese, Mickey D's on a budget?" and drops his trademark "yuugh" ad-lib over a sparse beat.
"We think he's struck the right tone in this one. Make no mistake, we're drawing a comparison between us and them, and we think we're better, but we also think that it's not mean if you're right," Schwing said. "We're trying to sell a product and make sure that we draw that distinction, but we're also doing it in a fun way with an unexpected twist. At no point do we think it went a direction where it was anything but having fun about a fish sandwich."
For Arby's, the diss track is a way to stay true to its "maverick" positioning without crossing brand safety lines. It also allows the chain to generate buzz that outstrips its size on the QSR landscape.
"We have to have ideas bigger than our budgets' we have to out-kick our coverage on all of these things or otherwise we're playing a media weight game, and that's not when we win," Schwing explained. "Whether it be our television, PR or activations, we have to do better. We have to have more creativity, to be more provocative, and that's where we create competitive advantage."
That same approach has informed other efforts from Arby's, like one that saw videos go viral on TikTok and another around limited-run vodka flavors inspired by its French fries. Those efforts rolled out during Schwing's tenure, who took over as Arby's CMO in March 2020 after more than 16 years at Procter & Gamble — just days before the pandemic took hold. The past two years have taught the marketing veteran about the industry's new imperatives, especially after moving to a new vertical.
"QSR has always been agile in the sense that the pace and the cadence of the business is very, very fast. It's highly competitive and can be very fluid," he said. "Whether it be the marketing plan, or the supply chain, all of that stuff, being able to sense and respond very fast is something that we'll take with us."
While at P&G, Schwing oversaw the introduction of its Oral-B Connect products that use artificial intelligence and mobile technology to help consumers improve oral care. That digital background has informed his work at Arby's, which he said is moving to digital after being too reliant on traditional TV to drive its business. Digital tactics support agility and the brand's ability to maneuver, message and develop content, while also helping it recruit a new generation of consumers who aren't watching TV, he explained. Schwing believes the Pusha T diss track is the latest example of how that shift can help the brand.
"We continue to try to capitalize on moments in time where we think we can have a really cool point of view that is relevant to the brand but will be well received within the community, and do so authentically," he said. "I think we've hit our stride in like the last six months on that."