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Cracker Barrel on mission to pull in millennial diners with new ads

Lewis Lazare
A waitress serving plates of food in a restaurant inside Cracker Barrel Country Store.
Jeffrey Greenberg | UIG | Getty Images

Cracker Barrel, the Lebanon, Tennessee-based restaurant chain, has always been about good ol' boy, down-home hospitality and unpretentious Southern cooking.

That's not exactly the kind of stuff that readily appeals to millennial restaurant-goers — an audience segment that no company can afford to ignore these days.

So Cracker Barrel turned to the Epsilon ad agency in Chicago to develop new advertising specifically aimed at millennials and Gen X'ers and tied to the introduction of a new menu item called Southern Bowls.

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The campaign Epsilon came up with, needless to say, is humorous, because it's been well-documented that millennials like their advertising to be funny if they are expected to pay attention at all.

Several new digital videos from Epsilon show a cooking duo alliteratively named Mike & Mary ostensibly cooking up some Southern dishes. But it quickly becomes apparent in the glib repartee between the two cooks that they are clueless about Southern cooking, which becomes the cue for the announcement that what Mike and Mary are all about is not Southern.

What is Southern, as the videos insist, is the cooking at Cracker Barrel, which includes the new Southern Bowls and other dishes.

Fans of the Food Network in particular will appreciate in the Epsilon work how easy it is to spoof the usually dead serious nature of the fare on that channel and the hosts who front the various cooking programs. For an audience of millennials who may not be keyed into Cracker Barrel and its more Middle American mindset, the Mike and Mary stuff may help lower any barriers that have kept millennials from trying Cracker Barrel.

Meanwhile, as Mike and Mary-themed advertising plays out in the digital space, a much more traditional TV spot from Havas Chicago has just debuted introducing the Southern Bowls to the mainstream Cracker Barrel audience.

The Havas spot is a remarkably ordinary piece of work from a shop that has done much better for Cracker Barrel and other clients. Whether the powers-that-be at the restaurant chain told Havas to tone it down or this is what the agency thought would work best to sell the bowls, the new commercial does not incite much excitement about Cracker Barrel's new menu item.