The Dangers of Catering to a New Demographic

Restaurant chain Applebee’s took a dive into unfamiliar waters when they changed their marketing strategy in an attempt to appeal to the Millennial generation. However, in the process, Applebee’s ended up alienating their loyal followers. So, what exactly made sales drop more than 6% in 2016, and why will 135 of their restaurants close by the end of this year? Let’s dig a little deeper.


To captivate Millennial consumers, the “Neighborhood Bar and Grill” set out to create a more sophisticated dining experience. This included remodeling the interior and exterior of their restaurants and spending $40 million on a new grill to revamp their food selection, which impacted 40% of the items on the menu. “The brand’s set out to reinvent Applebee’s as as a modern bar and grill in overt pursuit of a more youthful and affluent demographic,” said president of Applebee’s John Cywinski, who went on to state that these efforts were “a clear pendulum swing toward millennials”.

However, not only did the younger consumers not find Applebee’s new pork, bacon, and ham sandwich (dubbed the ‘Triple Hog Dare Ya’) appealing, but in expending their energy trying to woo Millennials, Applebee’s antagonized their current customer base. Prices rose and favored menu items disappeared, which caused older customers to no longer feel comfortable eating there. The beloved atmosphere of Applebee’s seemed like it had changed overnight. While trying to gain a new audience, the restaurant ended up losing their current audience.


This isn’t the first time that a brand has tried to reinvent itself in order to gain new customers – especially millennials. It’s not necessarily the restaurant itself that Millennials snubbed – the generation prefers cooking at home or grabbing food on the go, which is why Millennials have been said to be the downfall of casual dining chains like this. Realizing this, the restaurant decided to go back to its roots by bringing back the all-you-can-eat specials and ‘2 for 20’ menu so beloved by their formerly loyal Boomer customers. Abandoning the sad attempt to prove that, hey, Applebee’s is HIP and COOL and TOTALLY FETCH, the brand is now focusing their marketing efforts on appealing to “routine traditionalists.”


Brands and businesses are constantly changing and rearranging their marketing strategy. As they should be – in an era where every day brings the birth of a new app or social media platform, companies should always be on the hunt for new methods to stand out from their competitors. As an agency, we understand how fast paced marketing is, so we can’t fault Applebee’s for trying. We’ve got the skinny on steps your business can take to connect with its evolving audience, while remaining reliable to existing customers:

  • Understand each demographic group and show how your company can appeal to them in their own specific ways
  • Use market research and competitive analysis to predict future trends that so your business can be proactive instead of reactive
  • Keep your brand identity clear and be aware of what impression  you’re making on both your current and target audience


So, how do you connect with the millennial generation? Millennials are creative, they’re inquisitive, and they care about changing the world in which they live in. To capture their attention, your brand or business has to keep pace with the insatiable demand for new, different, better. By presenting what exactly your brand is and why millennials – and everyone else for that matter – want it, need it, have to have it – you’ll make honest connections with those who see your brand as the solution to a problem they have.

Feeling nervous that your marketing strategy is sailing perilously close to the iceberg that sunk Applebee’s? Let us put on our nerd hats and dive into the nitty gritty of your target audiences. (Hey, Ma – that cultural anthropology degree is finally coming in handy!) We have a knack for solving complex marketing puzzles, so we’ll dig until we know just what brand attributes to highlight so that your business stands out. Just don’t ask us to include a triple meat sandwich in our campaign creative.

Categories InboundStrategy

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