As Potbelly ramps up its digital advertising efforts, the sandwich chain is beginning to focus more on underdog platforms.

Last month, Potbelly ran a promoted post on Reddit, polling users on what type of cheese would be best on a cheesesteak. In typical Reddit fashion, the post was phrased, “A cheesesteak is only legit if topped with Cheez Whiz. If you disagree you’re everything wrong with America. Reddit Gold to the best responses.”

That sassiness is quite reminiscent of another fast food restaurant, Wendy’s. It’s not surprising given that Potbelly’s CMO Brandon Rhoten spent nearly six years at Wendy’s, serving as the fast-food giant’s vp of marketing. Rhoten joined Potbelly in July after spending a year as CMO of Papa John’s.

Over the last six months, Rhoten has focused his attention on digital campaigns to make a case for more investments in 2019. “Potbelly’s a brand that hasn’t advertised with any significant scale to this point, and that’s a wonderful thing from a marketing standpoint. One, we don’t have an expectation,” Rhoten said.

Over the last year, Potbelly has dedicated the majority of its ad dollars to Facebook, Instagram and search, Rhoten said. But since he’s joined, they’ve also been looking to grow on Twitter and Reddit.

“I tend to lean toward digital because most brands are terrible at digital so there’s less competition. We brought in Reddit[‘s sales team] shortly after I joined because we knew there were no rules for the brand, so we thought, ‘Where would we go if we had no rules?'” Rhoten said.

Indeed, Reddit has had a reputation for not being a welcoming place for advertising. But in 2018, the company invested in growing a brand partnerships team, based out of Chicago. Rhoten’s team came up with the plan to focus on cheesesteak and had Reddit’s team help on the actual prompt. The campaign had 2,884,422 unique impressions and 31,896 total engagements. Rhoten said the results exceeded the company’s benchmarks for engagement rate and comment rate. (Provolone won.)

“Right now, everyone’s talking about cheesesteak, including Subway, and we knew it was something that we could claim ownership in. Our intention with the campaign was to lean into the controversy,” Rhoten said.

Leaning into controversy is also their tagline for their activity on Twitter. On Halloween, Potbelly ran a caption contest for an image of someone apparently murdered by a Subway sandwich.

“You can look at our Twitter and Reddit and Instagram as examples of dipping toe, running heavy creative and stepping back and learning. Because there are no rules, we can kind of do whatever works,” Rhoten said.

Image courtesy of Potbelly 

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