Promotion Disaster Turns Brilliant PR Move

Ruth's Chris' failed social media promotion went viral on Facebook

This week’s digital marketing success story is about Ruth's Chris Steakhouse…a national chain of upscale restaurants.

What Can We Learn From Ruth’s Chris: How a Facebook promotion turns viral and leads to national news.

Example: Ruth’s Chris in Ann Arbor, MI’s “Score Big” promotion:

Ruth's Chris' original Facebook promotion that went viral on social media

Then, this happened:

Michigan football score against Rutgers for the Ruth's Chris Facebook promotion

They filled up with reservations within 24 hours.

Ruth's Chris filled up with reservations on Facebook announcement after viral social media promotion

Oops.

Except Ruth’s Chris started trending on Facebook and became a national and local news sensation.

Ruth's Chris trending on Facebook after their social media promotion went wrong

National news coverage: Fox News, Time, For the Win (USA Today), CBS Sports, ESPN, Inc, Entrepreneur.com and others.

Local news coverage: MLive (Michigan), KHOU (Texas), The Philadelphia Inquirer (Pennsylvania), The Seattle Times (Washington) and others.

On Wednesday of last week, Ruth’s Chris in Ann Arbor was fully booked for this week in anticipation of the Michigan vs. Illinois football game (Michigan won 41–8).

Why Was This Promotion Effective?

It was so ridiculous that it got a lot of free advertisement.

By limiting the promotion to just food and requiring an entree, at worst they break even (good chance they made money off alcohol).

Their out of pocket cost was probably nothing and the Ruth’s Chris chain got national press.

This promotion will continue until the end of the football season. Most likely, the story will be picked up again if Michigan “Scores Really Big”.

The Bigger Picture: Digital Media Turns News Into Free Advertisements with Massive Reach

Jim Mulchay, a community reporter for MLive, gets it:

Comment from Jim Mulchay that with digital media, advertisements and news come together as one

Because of the internet and social media, the Ruth’s Chris story was able to reach more people than anyone could have guessed.

When an interesting topic starts trending on a social network (in this case, Facebook) it can get picked up by news outlets.

Social networks and news sites feed off one another to get a business massive reach.


Other Thoughts

Is Ruth’s Chris Playing 4D Chess While We All Play Checkers?

The view from Ruth's Chris HQ.

The view from Ruth's Chris HQ.

A week before the “Score Big” promotion, Rutgers lost 58–0 to Ohio State in football. Ohio State was ranked 2 for that game and Michigan was ranked 4 when they played Rutgers.

Chances were good that Michigan wins big.

Did Ruth’s Chris know all along this would happen? Maybe, but probably not.

After Michigan’s win, they stuck with the promotion theme, modified it and capped the discount at 50%.

Was that by design to make an even better news story? 4D chess?

Can Your Business Copy The Ruth’s Chris Promotion Disaster?

This one is pretty hard to repeat. But if you did, it would score big league.

If you are in an industry where it’s affordable to tie a promotion like this to a local team winning big, like a nationally known college team, are you bold enough to step out onto the field?

That promotion, or any other ridiculous one, just might lead to a trending spot on Facebook and free national advertising.


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I share social media basics and success stories, press the heart button if you think Ruth’s Chris pulled a brilliant PR move (by accident?).

Even though I write this on every post, thanks for reading.