El Pollo Loco is in digital expansion mode.
The Costa Mesa-based restaurant chain (Nasdaq: LOCO) has found a new home on TikTok as part of its efforts to reach a younger audience. Those efforts kicked into high gear in March, when the company’s former chief financial officer, Larry Roberts, stepped into the CEO role.
That promotion came about a month after former McDonald’s executive Andrew Rebhun was promoted to chief marketing officer.
In addition to having new menu items that reflect what consumers are posting online—the new beef birria tacos, for example—the nearly $340 million-valued chain, with over 480 locations, is exploring what media planning and storytelling can do to attract new customers to the 42-year company.
“It’s about the ability to try and convince a consumer they should give your brand a chance, the ability to influence a $1, $10 or $20 purchase,” Rebhun, who joined the firm in 2019, told the Business Journal.
When announcing the company’s 2021 fiscal results in March, Roberts told analysts of the company’s plans to increase investment in digital media and brand messaging, emphasizing the food’s quality and cultural roots.
“Not only did we increase our marketing spend on social media, we created new, unique content across the major social media platforms, enabling us to send targeted messages to various user groups, particularly to our younger consumers,” Roberts said.
The company tapped TikTok influencers to promote the beef birria tacos; the campaign had over 21 million impressions, while the El Pollo Loco hashtag reached over 120 million views on the platform.
“We experienced a strong acceleration in our birria sales even before our TV marketing went live,” Roberts said.
The CEO also reported record sales companywide for three straight weeks after the birria launch, from franchisees to company-owned locations.
“We did a soft roll of birria probably about four or five days before we did anything on social media or TV, and it was mixing … probably about 1.5%,” Roberts said. “We then went on TikTok. And that day, that mix went up to 8.5% just by TikTok. So, it’s been a phenomenal platform for us.”
Owned by China-based ByteDance, the social network app launched in 2016 after merging with video and music app Musical.ly. According to Insider Intelligence’s forecast, TikTok will have 750 million monthly users in 2022 and approach 1 billion users in 2025.
El Pollo Loco’s TikTok profile currently has 137,300 followers and 2.9 million likes. Videos of the birria tacos have counted between 1.8 million and 4.2 million views.
After debuting the notable menu items of birria and the tostada on TikTok and its fellow platforms, El Pollo Loco decided to launch a campaign specifically for social media.
This started with a campaign called “Abuela Approved,” with the goal of providing a more authentic face of the brand through the character of Abuela.
“There’s a bond between a grandchild and a grandparent that we wanted to touch on,” Rebhun told the Business Journal. The campaign not only “points to the generational divide but allows us to breach it authentically.”
The decision to feature an Abuela, Spanish for grandmother, came from research within TikTok, which had 6.6 billion views under the “abuela” hashtag.
“We saw a desire to consume multigenerational content,” Rebhun said.
Abuela videos will continue to release throughout the summer, directed by Yubicela Brito.
El Pollo Loco’s social media push reflects a major shift in media consumption from the pandemic era of fast entertainment.
“We’re going to position ourselves and our storytelling through the lens of media channels and avenues where customers are lining up to consume the content,” Rebhun said.
The company’s marketing efforts will continue across all social media platforms from TikTok to Facebook to YouTube to cast a wider net.
“We’re becoming more relevant in the way we’re talking to consumers, and [will continue] amplifying brand storytelling efforts,” Rebhun said.