The Funny Side of Fast Food: How the Arby’s Brand Uses Humor

We often associate branding with the process of building a professional image. One that inspires trust and professionalism. Because you want people to take you seriously. But today we’re going to talk about a brand that did just the opposite. A fast-food chain that threw tradition out of the window with its playful and unique marketing strategy. The title already gave it away – yes, we’re talking about the Arby’s brand! 

Arby’s might not be the biggest name in the game, but they’ve carved a niche for themselves with their unique personality. One that’s hard to mimic! 

So, today, we’re diving deep into the Arby’s phenomenon. We’ll explore how they forged their unforgettable brand identity and how humor can be a powerful marketing tool. Buckle up, because we’re about to learn some valuable marketing and branding lessons from the success of the Arby’s brand!

Unveiling the Roots of the Arby’s Brand 

The above video is an old Arby’s commercial. While the overall tone is funny, the tagline – “I’m thinking Arby’s” sounds commonplace doesn’t it? So, how did a brand with a not-so-unique tagline evolve into one that roasted vegetarians with a helpline? One that went viral on social media for a one-line Tweet about Pharrell Williams’s hat! 

Let’s take a step back to look at the history of the Arby’s brand. It all started in 1964 when Leroy and Forrest Raffel opened a store selling roast beef sandwiches in Boardman, Ohio. By 1971, Arby’s had franchises running and had perfected their signature recipe which is reportedly being used to date. 

Evolution of the Arby’s logo 

The below image shows how the Arby’s brand’s identity has been evolving along with the brand. In 1975, the brand chose to go with a more modern and simpler version of their logo retaining the cowboy hat symbolism which had by then become a signature element of the brand. 

Yes, the current Arby’s logo looks a lot like the 1975 version except for the slightly more geometric font and the additional room for the characters to breathe. This makes the current-day logo more modern and approachable in comparison. 

Arby’s new logo and identity 

The recent version of the Arby’s logo was adopted in the year 2013 which marked a major transitional phase for Arby’s. This was the year the fast-food chain welcomed their new CMO, Rob Lynch. This was also the year that Arby’s started working with the popular creative agency, Fallon and launched their “We have the meats” campaign. 


The above campaign focused on the “meatcraft” at Arby’s and there’s an undeniable sass in the ad that was received well when the ad was launched. This was the time when Arby’s was struggling to keep up with other big names like McDonald’s and Wendy’s. So, the plan was to come up with a marketing strategy that was more casual to make it easier for consumers to connect with the brand. And it worked! 

The fresh and relatable personality of Arby’s which is a hit with the younger generation was created with the new identity and branding that happened in 2013. From there on the brand has proven its brilliance in leveraging humor as a marketing tool to portray its fun and unique personality across various channels. 

Let’s now talk about some of the popular campaigns and marketing milestones that have helped shape the Arby’s brand bringing it to where it is today. 

Marketing Wins That Placed the Arby’s Brand in the Humor Hall of Fame

The art of going viral – when Arby’s Tweeted about Pharell William’s hat 

In the 2014 Grammy’s there was one thing that was trending besides the award show itself and that was the Arby’s brand. All thanks to the one timely Tweet that was born out of shrewd social listening. It was a humble and witty one-line Tweet – the one you see below. 

It all started when a lot of people started talking about Pharell Williams’ hat at the Grammys connecting it with the Arby’s brand. Take a look at the below photo and then recall the first logo of Arby’s and you’ll know what the discussion was about! 

When this hat became an internet frenzy, Arby’s did not lose a moment. They Tweeted about it and that one-line Tweet snowballed into a viral trend. Yes, this was yet another historic internet moment like Oreo’s Super Bowl Tweet from 2013. 

Marketing moments like these prove that for brands to go viral, it’s essential to stay on top of trends and to have strong social listening strategies. 

Well, things did not end with that single Tweet. The whole virality of this incident led to the hat becoming a popular item on the internet only to be later auctioned for charity. And of course, it was Arby’s that won the auction! 

Pushing the boundaries of marketing – with a 13-hour-long commercial

A few years ago, Arby’s came up with a 13-hour-long commercial to show that their Smokehouse Brisket is smoked for 13 hours! You read it right – it was a commercial that was 13 hours long! If that’s hard to believe, then take a look at the 13-hour-long video right here

Talk about showing it in action! Arby’s did take it quite literally with this campaign and the satire in the idea made it work! 

This commercial did not just win a Guinness World Record but also won several hearts for the hilarious and unexpected way to promote their new menu item. The sheer weirdness of the campaign got people talking about it – which means an increase in media coverage and social media mentions which is a good thing for a brand in the digital landscape. This campaign is a good example to show that Arby’s is not afraid to push the boundaries in marketing to keep proving that the Arby’s brand is unlike any other! 

Embracing the unexpected – with Wagyu Steakhouse Burger

In a sea of burger-focused fast food chains, Arby’s stood out as a sandwich place. But then as we have seen, the brand is not one to stay predictable. They recently introduced a new menu item, the Wagyu Steakhouse Burger. 

To introduce this new menu item, of course, they had a witty commercial! The one that talks about the other “bad burgers served in drive-thrus” and how Arby’s set out to solve that problem! 

Reportedly, the burger was a hit and was sold out in 2022. It’s not just that – the brand also moved to the Franchise 500 Top 10 for the first time since 1992! So, gauging the market well and understanding what their customers wanted turned out to be beneficial to Arby’s! 

KIMP Tip: Notice that there is a prominent visual consistency among the videos that Arby’s uses, especially with product launches and their product-focused commercials. A dedicated design team and a well-organized content strategy for your marketing help achieve that! 

When The King of Roast Beef decided to roast the Roast Master, Jon Stewart

For a quick background, Jon Stewart of The Daily Show had made it clear on multiple instances that he was not a big fan of Arby’s, by roasting the brand brutally. Like that one time he remarked “Come for the Tweets, run from the meats!” 

But after all this, here’s how the brand paid tribute to the host:

The below Tweet was the last strike! It shows that the brand has truly aced their social media game! 

The way Arby’s embraced the “feud” with humor made this whole thing work in favor of the Arby’s brand image! This also shows how a brand can leverage even negative publicity and turn a negative situation into a positive marketing moment by playing along.

On another note, the incident also shows how Arby’s strives to build relationships, and foster connections even in the most unlikely moments and the most unlikely places! 

Arby’s “Vegetarian Helpline” – when trolling pays off 

Trolling one section of the audience to appeal to another section seems like the last thing on any brand’s strategy. However, Arby’s is a brand known to often take the path less taken. So yes, they also took the path of trolling a section of the audience – the vegetarians in particular! With their Vegetarian Helpline campaign. 

This comprehensive campaign included a phone number (1-855-MEAT-HLP) and even a website with “helpful” tips for vegetarians! This campaign, while potentially alienating some vegetarians, did generate a lot of buzz and media attention. On the whole, it was a bold marketing move! 

Owning your mistakes – with a hint of humor! 

The above ad was comical in every way and the honest confession in it added to the depth of the commercial. The ad talks about a contractual requirement for Pepsi to be featured in the Arby’s brand commercials at least twice a year. And reportedly since Arby’s forgot to feature Pepsi, they created a whole ad dedicated entirely to Pepsi. 

The commercial was a single shot of a glass of iced Pepsi with a voiceover hilariously explaining Arby’s mistake. While it looks simple at first glance, the copy itself and the voiceover together with the whole idea made it a hit! 

Talking about partnerships with beverage brands, the next campaign for promoting Arby’s serving Coca-Cola in their menu was iconic too! 

Go big or go home 

In marketing, you need to ask yourself – are you looking to be just another product on a store shelf or a brand that people love and talk about? If it’s the latter you need to go big sometimes and Arby’s knows exactly how to do that. 

Well, for the announcement of bringing Coca-Cola into their menu, Arby’s went big, (and small too)! They created the world’s smallest advertisement by printing the message on a sesame seed and the world’s largest advertising poster as well! All that to announce that Coke was now part of their menu! 

KIMP Tip: The copy for this campaign was quite simple – “Arby’s Now Has Coke”. But this copy worked well because it takes after the brand’s tagline “We have the meats”. This is a good example to show the power of a strong and memorable tagline in branding. 

As for the design, the brand kept it simple by utilizing just the brand font and brand color. This simplicity helps direct the entire focus to the message to be communicated. In fact, this is the case with most video and static ads from the brand. Such levels of brand recognition only happen with consistent branding and marketing designs. And consistent marketing designs happen with a dedicated design team

Partnerships done right – Old Spice Meat Sweats 

A couple of years ago, Arby’s teamed up with Old Spice to tackle a common post-meal phenomenon – the “meat sweats.” As a part of this collab, they came up with a tongue-in-cheek campaign. It came with a limited-edition “Meat Sweat Defense Kit” featuring a co-branded sweatsuit and Old Spice deodorant.

This campaign was able to strike all the right chords because of the unique personalities of the brands in the partnership. Just like Arby’s Old Spice is also known for its witty and sarcastic brand tone of voice. 

The Meat Sweats campaign also shows that one of the best ways to ensure that brand partnerships work is to choose a brand that’s very similar to yours in its personality! 

KIMP Tip: Campaigns like this one are proof that branded merch is still a big deal in marketing! No matter the scale of your brand and no matter what industry your brand belongs to, you can always find a way to leverage branded merchandise to boost engagement! 

Need help designing branded merch to foster stronger customer relationships and build memorability for your brand? Get KIMP

Don’t Be Bland, Be Bold: Create Winning Marketing Like Arby’s with KIMP Designs 

Arby’s unique style of humor wouldn’t be nearly as effective without the clever visuals that bring their campaigns to life. After all, eye-catching visuals are what grab attention in today’s fast-paced world. Moreover, they’re very much essential for establishing a strong brand personality, like the one the Arby’s brand has! 

Looking to create on-brand visuals like the ones that Arby’s deploys? An unlimited design service like KIMP might be just what you need!

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