Brand on the Run

By Cameron Advertising

Olive Garden’s new logo, a central element of its proclaimed “brand Renaissance,” is leaving a bad taste in the mouths of, well . . . nearly everyone. Investors are folding their napkins and running from the table: shares of parent company Darden Restaurants are already down over 10% in 2014.

As for social media, reaction ranged from: “. . .the new logo’s script is terrible. It looks like a Design 1 student project.” To: “My theory is Olive Garden was drunk at a poker game and lost a crazy bet and now has to use that new logo.” To: “. . . looks like something off a crockpot from the 1970’s.” To: “. . . looks like it was drawn with a breadstick.” Not to pile on, but our consensus opinion at the agency: that is one ugly font.

The larger question is will the rebranding, along with a revamped menu, save the ailing chain? Olive Garden, along with Darden’s other flagship entry in the casual dining category, Red Lobster, has been in freefall. Customer traffic declined as much as 13 percent at Olive Garden in December and 19 percent at Red Lobster in January. It’s emblematic of the casual dining category as a whole, which is falling victim to the current trends in consumers’ spending and eating habits.

Like so many segments of consumer spending, the higher and lower ends are where the dollars are going now. The middle is disappearing. If diners are going to spring for dinner at a sit-down restaurant, they want food worth going out for. (Darden’s higher-end restaurants, Capital Grille, Yard House and others, are doing fine.) The casual dining paradigm – middle-of-the-road food plus the extra cost of tipping your waiter – doesn’t match consumers’ needs. Not surprisingly, fast-casual restaurants, featuring fast-food speed with higher-quality food and no waiters to tip (e.g., Chipotle), are booming.

The lesson is simple: know the trends of your industry. If your product or service doesn’t meet your customers’ evolving needs, they won’t swallow it.