Social and Influencer > Influencer Marketing


GREY, New York / APPLEBEE'S / 2022


Silver Cannes Lions
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Why is this work relevant for Social & Influencer?

Consumer sentiment around Applebee’s was low, as evident by hate on social. We needed to turn our image around. When we discovered struggling musician, Walker Hayes, and his song about us – “Fancy Like” – we knew it had the positive vibes America had to hear. So we blew up Walker and his song on TikTok, America’s go-to for good vibes and music, then created a 360° campaign that rewarded those who did the “Fancy Like” dance by showcasing them in ads. “Fancy Like” turned into a cultural phenomenon, bringing celebrities like Amy Adams and Shaq together to celebrate Applebee's.


Applebee’s, the largest casual-dining restaurant (CDR) chain in the United States, is the stuff of meme legend, but not in a good way – it’s roasted on social media for being mediocre, ubiquitous and a cultural relic of early 2000s Americana. When COVID-19 hit, many believed it could be the final nail in the coffin for Applebee’s. People were placing their bets that the restaurant wouldn’t make it through the year 2021.

With all of these compounding factors, Applebee’s needed to do something bold and meaningful to build brand love and cultural relevance. Applebee’s objective was to create a powerful reason to motivate Americans to believe in and love it again.

Describe the creative idea

The vibe in America was as bleak as the one around Applebee’s. A OnePoll survey revealed half of Americans felt 2021 was the worst year of their lives. So, we sought a way to get people feeling good and loving Applebee's again. We dug through the internet to find some piece of authentic brand positivity. Then we found Walker Hayes and his song, “Fancy Like”: an ode to his date night tradition at Applebee’s. It was an earworm that perfectly summed up the feel-good food and moments America was craving, especially in 2021.

Our idea: make Walker’s love song to Applebee’s famous to inspire the rest of America to love Applebee’s, too. The only problem? Walker was an unknown artist, and his song was stuck in obscurity. We had to bring it to light and make Walker and his ode to Applebee’s famous, to change the perception around the brand.

Describe the strategy

In 2021, TikTok was America’s happy place. Time spent on the app helped us escape political unease and ongoing pandemic uncertainty – particularly in the form of feel-good music. 75% of TikTok users – about 600 million people – say they discover new artists through TikTok. If Applebee’s wanted to blow up the Fancy Like song and bring the good vibes, TikTok was the place to kick it off.

Ultimately, our strategy was to act more like a record label, than a restaurant to get Walker and his song the clout and fame they deserved. So we tapped our employees to help hype the “Fancy Like” dance on TikTok, get it trending and rack up Walker’s followers and listeners. Then to help Walker really achieve mainstream fame, we pushed “Fancy Like” out into bigger and broader channels.

Describe the execution

Within four weeks, we blew up Fancy Like on TikTok by turning employees into semi-influencers to hype the song’s dance. Then we implemented a 360° media campaign to bring it to the masses, rewarding those who did the dance by showcasing them in our TV ads. We even put the song on TV’s biggest night, Sunday Night Football, to get it heard by as many ears as possible. Walker’s song (and Applebee’s) took over Instagram, Twitter and YouTube. Inspired by the lyrics (“Get that Bourbon Street Steak with the Oreo Shake!), we even put our Oreo Shake back on the menu.

Finally, we partnered with Walker to have him promote himself. He spoke with targeted press and broadcast aimed at driving traffic to the restaurant. This coordinated effort ensured that our obscure artist would blow up on TikTok (and beyond) and have his song achieve fame.

List the results

We made “Fancy Like Applebee’s” the hashtag of summer 2021: with 900,000 TikToks and 703.6M+ #FancyLike Views on TikTok. It turned into a cultural phenomenon bringing celebrities like Amy Adams and Shaq together in celebration of Applebee’s. The convo around Applebee’s blew up in a good way, with a 355% increase in reach across social. Most importantly, we nearly doubled positive social sentiment. Sales showed it: Applebee’s outperformed the category and had its best year ever.

The same was true for Walker: after our TV ran, his song hit its highest number of streams and sales in a single week. “Fancy Like” even scored a Grammy nomination for Best Country Song. With a 165% lift in mentions of him on social media and a 59% lift in Walker’s popularity based on daily average search interest, we brought him out of obscurity and into limelight.

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