Joe’s Crab Shack is steering a new course with an updated brand positioning that focuses on the food, culture and lifestyle of the Gulf Coast region.
The 130-unit casual-dining division of Houston-based Ignite Restaurant Group Inc. this month debuted new menu items and an advertising push that magnifies its new “Third Coast” positioning.
The new ad campaign features the tagline “100% Shore.” Filmed mostly in Galveston, Texas, the ads feature traditional seafood shacks, crabbers, catches and down-home signage.
Joe’s new agency of record, McCann Erickson of New York, prompted the new strategy, said Ignite chief marketing officer Robin Ahearn. It includes a new “Third Coast” menu promotion that runs through May 19.
That menu features such new items as a Spicy Citrus Steampot and a Third Coast Platter, with blackened redfish, and Joe's Stuffers, clam shells filled with scallop, shrimp and clam.
Joe’s Crab Shack’s bar offerings are also part of the repositioning, but remain based on the Mason Jar lineup that was introduced several years ago.
The drinks served in Mason Jars have been a popular offering, Ahearn said. “You can keep the glass,” she explained. “It caught on fire.” The new line includes a strawberry-peach sangria with Moscato. “Our guests are asking more and more for Moscato,” Ahearn added, “both by the glass and in drinks. It’s good for patio season.”
Ahearn spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about Joe’s Crab Shack’s new positioning.
What is the core of the new positioning?
It’s really owning our middle name, which is “Crab.” What we’ve seen is that we hadn’t done such a great job of communicating who we are. We hadn’t talked about who we are as a brand in the external communications.
How did this new push come about?
Last year, we did a formal agency review and selected McCann to help us restructure our brand positioning. The thing they really pulled out for us — and it was sitting right in front of us but we didn’t realize it — is that we are a Gulf Coast-Third Coast brand. While we integrate a lot of those flavors in the product, it’s not something that we really talked about.
How has it influenced the menu?
I hired Jim Doak  last August as our head of culinary. It came up in conversation: “How can we give a nod to our heritage?” McCann pulled that out in our marketing, and Jim’s been able to do that already with some of the innovative stuff he’s working on. For instance, we’ll serve a peel-and-eat shrimp, but we have a Tabasco sauce for dipping. You can sort of control your own heat.
Marketing new items
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How does the advertising dovetail with that?
We are just making sure the brand has the right voice to go along with all the food innovation.
Does this change where you get menu ideas?
We’ve always gone to places like Charleston [S.C.] or a place where they are steaming oysters out in some random marsh. It’s the kind of places where you get bug spray with your tray of oysters. That’s a true story. I actually stabbed myself in the hand with an oyster shucker at a place where you shuck your own. We’ll even go to Cape Elizabeth [Maine] up in New England, where they have the lobster shacks. We get great inspiration from those little shacks.
You’ve had New England Steam Pots on the menu. Will they remain?
They are still on the menu. Our filter is on the “Southern Hospitality” part of it more than anything.
We have a new product called Stuffers. They are a stuffed-clam product out of New England. We saw them in Rhode Island. We’ve always served food out of the shell. It’s one of the things we do. So we created a Joe’s Stuffer, but on the side is a Tabasco-beurre blanc sauce. You can manage your own hit by pouring it over the top. So it’s a New England product, but most of the country doesn’t know that. We take it and make it our own.
And other popular menu items?
Sam Adams Steam Pot or Beantown Bake. Those will stay. It is more about the feeling and hospitality you get when you roll up your sleeves and dig into a pot. It’s not pretentious or stuffy. You can sit on the patio and be dirty. You don’t have to be at a fine-dining restaurant trying to get into a crab leg, which is not easy when you are in a buttoned-down shirt and trying to stay proper.
Will you be changing your media mix?
We’re primarily national cable in our media. We’re running 30- to 15-second [ads]. Cable is similar to what we bought before. The media weights haven’t changed much. It will be on Discovery, E!, the Food Network, VH1 and Cooking Channel.
What are you most excited about?
The thing that I’m most excited about is that it’s the most representative of us and who we are as a group of people and the type of food we serve. It represents us very well. It feels really good, and we’re really proud of the work. It just feels right.