Boston Pizza Ribs

Events, Seasonal and Short-Term (BRONZE)

Client Credits: Boston Pizza International Inc.
Steve Silverstone, EVP Marketing
Alexander Green, VP Marketing
Andrew Borsk, Marketing Manager
Brenda Smith, Associate Marketing Manager

Agency Credits: TAXI Canada
Darren Clarke, TAXI, Executive Creative Director
Niall Kelly, TAXI, Creative Director
Scott Johnson, TAXI, Art Director
Chris Duffett, TAXI, Writer
Edith Rosa, TAXI, Group Account Director
Tamara Gervais, TAXI, Account Director
Melanie Abbott, TAXI, Account Manager
Megan Flett, TAXI, Producer
Brooke Hennessey, TAXI, Senior Designer
Yuko Brown, TAXI, Senior Designer
Sonja Vreugdenburg, TAXI, Digital Producer
Brittany Anderson, TAXI, Production Designer
Mason Braun, TAXI, Developer
Andrew O'Driscoll, Esther Sanchez, TAXI, Retouchers
Sean McDonald, TAXI, Director, Digital Strategy
Sharon Govang, TAXI, Print Producer
Arthur Oskan, TAXI, Mac Artist
Linda Matassa, Berna Ozunal, Kelly Lamorie, TAXI, Proofreaders
PHD, Media Agency
Brad Dworkin, Director; Kevin Saffer, Executive Producer, Touchpoint Films
Rob Scarborough, Director of Photography, Touchpoint Films
Raj Ramnauth, Editor; Michelle Rich, Executive Producer, Posterboy Edit
Online, Crush Inc.
Hamish McEwan, Cylinder Sound & Film, Creative Director
Brad Nelson, Cylinder Sound & Film, Executive Producer


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):June 10, 2013 to August 18, 2013
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: June 10, 2013
Base Period as a Benchmark: June 10, 2012 to August 18, 2012

a) Overall Assessment

In 1964, Boston Pizza (BP) opened for business in Edmonton, Alberta. And for the last 50 years, the casual dining restaurant has been growing – from this single location to a 360-store-strong Canadian behemoth, built on their unique concept combining a welcoming family dining room and lively sports bar.

And though it’s long been devoted to delivering a fun, relaxed atmosphere and an extensive menu of favourite foods, it was just three years ago that Boston Pizza sharpened its focus with its “Dad’s Happy Place” positioning. Since 2011, the brand has been wooing Dads with insightful messages, improved menu items, new product innovations, and attention-grabbing creative campaigns. By 2013, those efforts had driven nine quarters of consecutive same store sales growth and helped Boston Pizza achieve an average annual growth rate of 4.2% [Footnote 1]. 

So the question was – after three years of reworking its menu, overhauling its wings, and elevating its burger offering to new Pizzaburger heights – what was next on Boston Pizza’s To Improve list? The answer? Ribs.

Ribs presented both a great opportunity and a formidable challenge for Boston Pizza.

On one hand, ribs are nearly universally loved, culturally rich, and perfect for a summer campaign. As spring turns to summer and temperatures start rising, Canadians begin to itch for the outdoors – beaches, lakes, parks, patios, pools, cottages, and perhaps most of all, barbecues. An estimated 70% of Canadians own their own barbecue [Footnote 2], and according to Google, Canadians lead the world in online searches for barbecue rib recipes [Footnote 3].

And whether they’re basting them in their backyards or enjoying them at a restaurant, there’s a lot of lore around ribs. They’re messy. They’re meaty. They’re manly. They don’t require a knife and fork, but they do require a lot of napkins. And that mess and tearing of meat from bone is acceptable – even admired – in Canadian culture.  

But while Canadians love ribs, they didn’t love Boston Pizza’s ribs. In fact, prior to the brand’s ribs campaign, guests ranked ribs last among the foods Boston Pizza does best, behind pizza, pasta, appetizers, chicken wings, and burgers [Footnote 4]. Boston Pizza also ranked far behind its competition in every major Canadian region where consumers were asked which restaurant offered “high-quality” ribs [Footnote 5]. Compounding these low ratings was the fact that Boston Pizza hadn’t advertised or promoted its ribs in any meaningful way for nearly three years, allowing competitors such as Bâton Rouge, Montana’s, and Swiss Chalet to dominate Canadians’ rib conversations.

Fortunately, by the summer of 2013, Boston Pizza had improved its ribs, increasing their size and saucing them differently. But with a mediocre reputation and limited consumer awareness, the brand could not rely on small points of difference to change minds and boost sales.

b) Resulting Business Objectives

As it embarked on its summer ribs campaign, Boston Pizza set three major objectives:

  1. Cook Up Some News



  • Leverage the strength of the ribs category in an effort to generate interest in ribs, in general, and Boston Pizza, in particular.

Metrics desired:

  •  One million social media impressions
  •  Inspire key influencers to engage in organic conversations about Boston Pizza’s ribs


  1. Cook Up Some Love


  •  Incite Boston Pizza’s Dad target to watch, share, and interact with the new branded rib content.

Metrics desired:

  • 100,000 YouTube views
  • 1,000 T-shirt sales


  1. Cook Up Some Sales


  • Increase overall sales of Boston Pizza’s rib offering

Metrics desired:

  • Rib sales rise by 40% versus same period of 2012

c) Annual Media Budget
$2 - $3 million

d) Geographic Area
Nationwide (excluding Quebec)

Footnote 1: Client sales data and Hotspex, 2011 Brand U&A Tracking, June 2011.
Footnote 2: Angus Reid, Online Poll, July 2007.
Footnote 3: 680News, “Canadians Love to BBQ, Google Stats Show,” July 22, 2011.
Footnote 4: Hotspex, 2013 Brand U&A Tracking, May 2013.
Footnote 5: Hotspex, 2013 Brand U&A Tracking, May 2013.

a) Analysis and Insight

Canada’s restaurant rib market is characterized by a cacophony of competing messages. Since anyone can claim to have the best ribs, just about all of Boston Pizza’s competitors do, relying on assertions such as:

  • “We’re famous for our signature, slow-cooked, fall-off-the-bone back ribs”
  • “Grilled to perfection”
  • “The best rib cut”
  •  “Award-winning back ribs” [Footnote 6]

And though Boston Pizza had made some key improvements to its ribs, the brand wanted to avoid becoming just another voice in the “biggest, best, meatiest, sauciest, longest-marinated ribs in town” shouting match. We also knew that Dads would have difficulty trusting Boston Pizza’s declarations of rib supremacy given their lack of awareness of and respect for the brand’s ribs.

So how could we build credibility without resorting to touting the same old hackneyed claims? 

We realized that just because people don’t look to Boston Pizza for rib guidance, doesn’t mean they aren’t looking for guidance at all. In fact, the opposite is true. The Internet is overrun with articles and message boards detailing the quest for the perfect rib [Footnote 7] and debating the merits of various barbecue styles [Footnote 8]. In a rib world replete with different cook times, regional approaches, secret sauces, and basting techniques, Dads want a push in the right direction. But with all our competitors singing the same tune, Dads had no true authoritative voice to turn to. So we decided to give them one.

b) Communication Strategy

Boston Pizza’s ribs had both a credibility problem and a relevance problem. So the brand devised a communication strategy that would work to tackle each issue in turn.

 1. Build relevance with an unbranded teaser campaign

  • The brand’s strategy was to leverage the inherent appeal of ribs and entertain its rib-loving Dad target sufficiently to get him wondering, “Who is the company behind this campaign?”


2. Establish credibility with a launch that breaks category conventions

  • Forget classic endorsements, dubious claims of rib superiority, or the saccharine smiling-family-around-a-restaurant-table shots that dominate the casual dining ad landscape. Boston Pizza’s strategy was to find an authoritative voice that felt fresh, a little bit outlandish, and yet still highly credible.

Footnote 6: Competitive research.
Footnote 7: Indie 88, “The Quest for the Best BBQ,” March 12, 2014.
Footnote 8: “The Serious Eats Guide to Barbecue Styles.”

a) Media Used


  • Carousel and landing page of Boston Pizza’s website
  • Rib Stain Camo microsite with e-commerce capabilities
  • Email marketing
  • 15-second pre-roll
  • Digital banners
  • Search engine marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Unbranded Twitter profile promoting Rib Stain Camo T-shirts
  • Facebook content


  • In-store merchandising
  • POP


  • TV spots
  • 60-second unbranded infomercial promoting Rib Stain Camo T-shirts
  • 15-second and 30-second branded TV spots introducing the Ribnecks and connecting Rib Stain Camo with Boston Pizza
  • Branded content


  • Outreach and ambassador program with bloggers, food, and trade publications

b) Creative Discussion

As it sought out an authoritative voice to cut through the rib communication clutter, Boston Pizza ultimately decided to eschew the usual famous chef or TV celebrity tactic and instead create its own experts – a group of rib-lovers from a part of the world that does ribs better than anywhere else: the Deep South. The Ribnecks were a family of Southerners who provided a series of unique testimonials about the quality of Boston Pizza’s ribs. From their catchphrases and one-liners to their facial expressions and outfits, the Ribnecks were non-traditional spokespeople, to say the least, but that incongruity proved to be part of their appeal.

The brand also decided to take the campaign a step further by creating a product called Rib Stain Camo, purportedly invented by one of the Ribnecks. Rib Stain Camo was a T-shirt with a rib sauce splatter pattern, letting you make a meaty, saucy mess without having to worry about messing up your clothes in the process!

Rib Stain Camo communication began the week of June 10, 2013, with a 60-second infomercial that directed viewers to to purchase the T-shirts. The online store housed a simple shopping tool that allowed people to order Rib Stain Camo tees with just a few clicks.

On June 11, we ran a 60-second infomercial spot during the U.S. Open, taking advantage of the buzz and attention around the event. The infomercial also found an audience online, thanks to digital banners, PR video seeding, blogger outreach, and promoted Tweets and trends on Twitter that targeted rib enthusiasts, food lovers, and our Dad target. No Boston Pizza branding was included for the first two weeks, with the exception of a coupon for $10 off a rib dinner that was packaged with T-shirts purchased online. This approach helped generate buzz, drive curiosity, and increase the content’s shareability.

A week after the debut of Rib Stain Camo, a 30-second TV spot starring our Southern rib experts hit the airwaves. These Ribnecks attested to the quality of Boston Pizza’s new ribs using an unorthodox rating scale that included metrics such as “Hooo-weee” and “Good Goodie.” Digital banners and a landing page on ran concurrently with the TV spot and included ribs messaging that worked to drive awareness and online rib orders

A week after that, on June 24, 2013, Boston Pizza branding was added to the Rib Stain Camo creative and a 15-second version of the infomercial aired on TV immediately after a 15-second cutdown of the Ribneck commercial. The media plan was structured so that Boston Pizza’s role as the mastermind behind Rib Stain Camo would be gradually revealed over the course of the campaign.

Both Boston Pizza’s website and its social media properties were used to deliver rib-centric messaging throughout the campaign. Facebook and Twitter accounts were also created for Rib Stain Camo so the brand could communicate directly with fans and easily disseminate user-generated content about how our target was ribbin’ and livin’ all over Canada while sporting the Rib Stain Camo.

Finally, franchisees received POS kits containing in-store posters, table talkers, menu inserts, billfolds, and hats and T-shirts for staff members. Some franchisees even sold limited quantities of Rib Stain Camo tees in their restaurants.




c) Media Discussion

Television has long been a mainstay of Boston Pizza’s media plans; it helps the brand efficiently reach huge numbers of Canadian Dads and places BP in close proximity with the programs and sporting events they love. But Boston Pizza stepped way out of its traditional comfort zone with the ribs campaign, using television in carefully considered combination with other channels and taking an innovative approach to both the timing and content of the campaign.


  • The campaign was structured so that Rib Stain Camo was launched as an unbranded teaser prior to the debut of the brand’s Ribnecks work. These two seemingly disparate efforts – one focused on an unusual item of clothing, the other focused on an unusual set of spokespeople – then dovetailed when it was revealed that Boston Pizza was the mastermind between Rib Stain Camo.


  • Boston Pizza’s ribs campaign marks the first time the brand has gone to market with a non-food product. Boston Pizza could simply have featured the shirt in its ads and stopped there, but the act of actually creating and selling the T-shirt, while far outside of Boston Pizza’s wheelhouse, is precisely the thing that generated so much buzz and served as proof that Boston Pizza cares as much about ribs as our target.

a) Sales/Share Results

With a marketing return on investment of 124%, incremental revenues of $5,148,186, and campaign results exceeding all three of the brand’s major objectives, Boston Pizza’s ribs campaign was a resounding success [Footnote 9].

 1. Cook Up Some News


  • Leverage the strength of the ribs category in an effort to generate interest in ribs, in general, and Boston Pizza, in particular.

Metrics desired:

  • One million social media impressions
  • Inspire key influencers to engage in organic conversations about Boston Pizza’s ribs

Metrics achieved:

  • Rib Stain Camo generated more than 230,000 online impressions within 24 hours [Footnote 10]. By the end of the ribs campaign, over 7.5 million impressions had been created, of which more than 600,000 were earned media impressions, such as features on 102.1 the Edge in Toronto, CTV Morning Live in Halifax, and Breakfast Television in Winnipeg [Footnote 11]. The remaining 6.9 million impressions were generated online through social media channels, blogs, and high-profile sites such as BuzzFeed and The Grid TO [Footnote 12].

2. Cook Up Some Love


  • Incite Boston Pizza’s Dad target to watch, share, and interact with the new branded rib content.

Metrics desired:

  • 100,000 YouTube views

×        1,000 T-shirt sales

Metrics achieved:

  • The Rib Stain Camo spot was viewed 226,991 times on YouTube, and received 195 likes and 277 shares [Footnote 13]. It was featured in Google’s YouTube Ads Leaderboard for June 2013, as the sixth-most-viewed ad in Canada [Footnote 14].
  • The Ribnecks spot received an additional 116,379 YouTube views, generating 369 likes and 326 shares [Footnote 15].
  • This combination of views and shares drove 123,706 visitors to [Footnote16]. The site saw an incredible 2.3% conversion rate, which drove 2,800 sales of the Rib Stain Camo T-shirt [Footnote 17].
  • Over the course of Boston Pizza’s ribs campaign, Twitter delivered over 26 million impressions and 58,000 replies, Retweets, clicks, and follows (Footnote 18].

3.  Cook Up Some Sales


  • Increase overall sales of Boston Pizza’s rib offering

Metrics desired:

  • Rib sales rise by 40% versus same period of 2012

Metrics achieved:

  • Boston Pizza’s half rack of ribs rose to become the restaurant’s most popular entrée dish, accounting for 17.8% of the promotional sales mix and representing a 132.5% increase over forecast [Footnote 19].
  • Sticky ribs, a Boston Pizza appetizer, was the second-highest seller at 13.7% of the promotional sales mix. This represented a 114% increase over forecast [Footnote 20].
  • Boston Pizza’s full rack of ribs was the fourth item in terms of the promotional sales mix, at 12.1%, but still drove a 114% increase over forecast [Footnote 21].

Total rib sales shot up 56% versus the same period in 2012 [Footnote 22].

b) Consumption/ Usage Results

c) Other Pertinent Results

d) Return on Investment

Footnote 9: Client sales data.
Footnote 10: PR Agency, Boston Pizza “Ribbin’ Is Livin’” Campaign Overview, August 2013.
Footnote 11: PR Agency, Boston Pizza “Ribbin’ Is Livin’” Campaign Overview, August 2013.
Footnote 12: PR Agency, Boston Pizza “Ribbin’ Is Livin’” Campaign Overview, August 2013.
Footnote 13: YouTube Insights, August 2013.
Footnote 14: Google Ads Leaderboard, June 2013.
Footnote 15: Google Ads Leaderboard, June 2013.
Footnote 16: Google Analytics, August 2013.
Footnote 17: Client sales data.
Footnote 18: Radian6.
Footnote 19: Client sales data.
Footnote 20: Client sales data.
Footnote 21: Client sales data.
Footnote 22: Client sales data.

a) General Discussion

Boston Pizza’s ribs campaign coincided with a 1.9% incremental sales lift, more than $5 million in additional revenue [Footnote 23], and a marketing return on investment of 124% [Footnote 24].

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels:

Media spend from June to August was higher in 2013 than the same time period in 2012, since there were no media dollars allocated to television from June to August 2012.



There was no discounting throughout the course of the campaign. Ribs remained at their regular price with one exception: a $10 off coupon for a full rack rib dinner was packaged with the 2,800 Rib Stain Camo T-shirts purchased online.

Distribution Changes:

There was no discounting throughout the course of the campaign. Ribs remained at their regular price with one exception: a $10 off coupon for a full rack rib dinner was packaged with the 2,800 Rib Stain Camo T-shirts purchased online.

Unusual Promotional Activity:

Ribs remained at their regular price with the exception of the aforementioned $10 off coupon. No other promotions or incentives for purchase coincided with the campaign.

Other Potential Causes:

Although Boston Pizza had made improvements to its ribs, changing their supplier and saucing the ribs differently, those changes were decidedly minor. Moreover, given the brand’s mediocre reputation for ribs and limited consumer awareness of our offering, it is unlikely that consumers would have given our ribs another chance without the buzz and credibility created by the brand’s ribs campaign.

Footnote 23: Client sales data.
Footnote 24: Client sales data.