Now that international Latin hip-hop star Pitbull has taken an ownership position in Miami Subs, we’re about find out just how big a boost social media can give a restaurant brand. The idea is that Pitbull’s 22 million Facebook fans and six million-plus Twitter followers will revive this once fast-growing chain by helping its marketing message go viral.
Going all in with Pitbull is a gutsy move for the chain, now rebranded as the New Miami Subs Grill. Does it come off as a last-gasp effort by Miami Subs’ current owners to keep the brand alive? Or is it pure genius to partner with a celebrity who already has a huge social media base rather than try to build one from scratch?
Either way, this experiment is going to have other restaurant industry players looking at celebrity owner/endorser partnerships in a different light. Now it may not be enough that a potential celebrity endorser might make a restaurant brand seem cool and hip; the celebrity may also have to bring a large and attentive social media fan base to the party.
And it’s definitely a party wherever Pitbull (given name: Armando Christian Pérez) goes. The Miami-based rapper tours around the world, and his ability to leverage his music success into the business world has been impressive. His list of endorsement deals includes Kodak, Dr. Pepper, Bud Light and Wal-Mart.
Pitbull’s combined earnings landed him on the Forbes list of high-earning hip-hop artists last year. “Pitbull is great with brands,” Adam Kluger, chief of brand partnership firm The Kluger Agency, told Forbes. “Endorsements with hip-hop artists work because hip-hop artists typically set the most trends…it’s every brand’s goal to be seen in the mainstream, and hip-hop music has become mainstream music.”
Fort Lauderdale-based Miami Subs was once part of the quick service mainstream, numbering roughly 200 units. Now it’s down to 38 stores, most located in South Florida. Miami Subs has always been known for its broad menu, one that became even broader when Nathan’s Famous bought the chain in 1998. The Miami Subs menu then expanded to include such co-branded items as hot dogs from Nathan’s Famous, seafood offerings from Arthur Treacher’s, and chicken bearing the Kenny Rogers Roasters brand.
The Miami Subs menu remains unusually broad for a quick service concept. The chain still takes an everything-for-everybody approach, giving guests 95 different options. Wings, hot dogs, subs, burgers, pitas, salads, cheesesteaks, fish and chips, chicken sandwiches, pancakes at breakfast—Miami Subs covers all the bases. That may change, as there are plans to produce a new Latin Fusion menu now that Pitbull is on board.
Miami Subs execs tout Pitbull’s “powerful viral fan base,” and they’ll be counting on it to help spread the word when that new menu is released. We don’t know how powerful Pitbull’s fan base might be, but it certainly is big. For perspective, Lady Gaga has 53 million Facebook fans, Pitbull has 22 million and the Dallas Cowboys have around five million. Pre-Pitbull, Miami Subs had just 9,777 Facebook fans and only 1,269 Twitter followers.
Pitbull has already begun to work his fan base on behalf of Miami Subs. One of his first post-deal announcement tweets went like this:
“let’s do for @miamisubs what u have done 4 me—go from #305 2 worldwide please LIKE their FB now facebook.com/miamisubsgrill daleeeee! Let’s go.”
We’ll be watching to see how his fans respond. If Miami Subs takes off from here, the restaurant industry will have a clear indication of how much social media can do for a restaurant brand.