The chain restaurant world is home to a few big food obsessions: Hardee’s biscuits and gravy has its rabid fans, as do the chicken and waffles at Roscoe’s. But when it comes to ground beef on a square, steamed bun, there’s really only one contender. Now White Castle is channeling that compulsion with a user-generated competition and a smartphone app utility.
The contest, launched for May’s National Hamburger Month and planned to last into the summer, asks WC fans to sign up for Craver Nation by registering at a microsite (in exchange for coupons for two free sliders) and then to complete challenges that show the depth of their love for the signature square patties from the chain, now with 400 outlets in 12 states.
Participants play by submitting photos and videos in response to in-game challenges such as building something with White Castle packaging, or waking someone up in a unique way to enjoy a Breakfast Slider. Other registered players vote on a challenge winner. The challenge prizes range from a $500 White Castle gift card to free breakfast for a year, with swag bags or gifts of White Castle frozen burgers for those who don’t live in-market. A drawing at the end of May will offer one winner free White Castle for life.
A sponsored video posted on the College Humor YouTube channel lays out the rules for one of the first Craver challenges:
The most recent challenge asks players to decorate their office space with White Castle packaging and offers a $500 Office Depot gift card as the grand prize.
“Our focus today is on talking to our customers as communities,” says Kim Brantley, White Castle’s vice president of marketing and menu development. “We’re not looking at them as targets, because that’s a one-way dialogue. We want to engage with them in ways they choose. They’ve been running these kinds of challenges among themselves without our encouragement. Craver Nation gives us a platform to create these unique experiences that set us apart from competitors.”
White Castle fan love may have reached a new plateau back in 2004 with the success of the movie “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle”, but the brand advocacy has been there for a long while and cuts across all ages and profiles, says Brantley.
“Our customer base is very broad demographically,’ she says. “It doesn’t swing to a particular gender, age or socioeconomic stratum. We appeal to a broad group of consumers who grew up on us, had experiences with us that make us different for them [from other QSR chains.] Our mission is to create more of those memorable moments, and we looked at the ‘Craver Nation’ campaign through that lens.”
While White Castle will design some of the challenges to spotlight specific dayparts or menus, it will also poll registrants for their ideas and suggestions for upcoming challenges. “We really want this to be owned by the community,” Brantley says. “We actually hope our customers themselves will start challenging each other to have some fun.”
Cooking to order is another White Castle point of difference. A new smartphone app offers to help speed that process by letting fans find a nearby White Castle and then send in an order before they arrive for pickup. The chain’s small burgers are often ordered in “Crave Cases” of 30 or even “Crave Crates” of 100 patties.
“You can imagine what an order that size does at the drive-thru window,” says Brantley. “We felt this app was a useful tool for our customer service and a convenience for our customers, too.”
Besides pre-ordering, the smartphone app’s main purpose is to offer a store locator function. “The Number One question in phone calls to our home office and regional offices is, ‘Can you tell me where the nearest White Castle is?’” says Brantley. “Answering that question was why we were the first quick-service chain to offer a web site back in the early ‘90s, and now we’re bringing that function to mobile.”