Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Tim McGraw Strums Loyalty for My Outback Rewards.

A celebrity endorsement—for a loyalty program?

The pros and cons of using a celebrity spokesperson in advertising have been long established. The pros? A celebrity draws attention The cons? A celebrity draws attention—away from your product or service.

What’s more, as we recently saw with golfing legend you-know-who, there’s the potential downside of aligning your company with a celebrity whose reputation takes a sudden nosedive. So when I learned that restaurant chain Outback Steakhouse had signed country music star Tim McGraw as a celebrity spokesperson, I was doubly surprised. You see, his job is not to pitch the brand, but to help launch their new loyalty effort My Outback Rewards.

As explained on the Outback Web site:
Fans of Tim McGraw and Outback Steakhouse will have the chance to win exclusive Tim McGraw memorabilia, downloads, tickets to the upcoming Southern Voice Tour and VIP access, great offers from Outback Steakhouse and even a chance to travel to Australia to see Tim McGraw perform live in the Land Down Under!

Another thing that’s different about My Outback Rewards are the rules: The program has no loyalty cards, as it’s based totally online. Once users register at the program Web site, they simply collect their Outback receipts–and then record numerical codes from the receipts on the rewards site. A point is earned for each dollar spent, and points can be redeemed for prizes.

The choice of McGraw as Outback’s loyalty program spokesman comes as less of a surprise when you learn the program was developed by event marketing agency Rally Marketing Group, whose specialty is experiential marketing. In the loyalty business we’ve long talked about the value of experiential rewards. But I wondered about putting the Tim McGraw experience on the same level as the Outback dining experience.

So it was with great interest that I visited the My Outback Rewards site on the program’s January 25th launch date. Just how would they incorporate McGraw into their communications? Would he be strumming an Outback inspired tune? Be shown chomping on a ribeye or a Bloomin’ Onion®?

Well, I can say they’ve done a nice job of integrating Tim McGraw into the My Outback Rewards Web site. The site is clean and easy to navigate, they do a good job of explaining step-by-step how the program works, and they have successfully linked Tim with the Outback brand by identifying several dishes that are “Tim’s choices”.

Still, I can’t help but wonder why Outback chose to put all its loyalty program eggs in the Tim McGraw basket. An e-mail welcoming me into the program came written and signed by Tim McGraw himself. A view of the reward list shows more Tim McGraw-related rewards than Outback options. And with the program so closely linked to McGraw, I’m left wondering if they have a fall back plan should the unthinkable happen.

I personally think Tim McGraw seems like a stand-up guy. Who doesn’t love his wife Faith Hill? And I really think they’ve done a beautiful job with the My Outback Rewards site. But in some ways the whole thing sure feels closer to a Tim McGraw loyalty program than one for Outback.

This article originally appeared on the Loyalty Truth blog, 1/29/10, and was written by Tom Rapsas, a 20 year direct and loyalty marketing veteran. Tom heads up Creative Services at Hanifin Loyalty and can be reached on Twitter @tomrapsas

1 comment:

  1. Tom-
    I think you made some really good points. It is risky to use a celebrity to endorse your product. Like you mentioned, look at the Tiger Woods situation. I bet most people thought that he was a stand up guy before things changed a month back. Now look at how many companies have dropped him since the story leaked.

    Another case in point is Anjelina Jolie. At the beginning of the year she was dropped from St. John's (the apparel line) because she was too famous and overshadowing the company. She did nothing wrong except for being famous.

    I would have been happier seeing Outback use real people that are more like me to endorse their loyalty program.