Reinventing an American icon.
How we’ve helped a classic restaurant chain rediscover its swagger, looking back to look forward.
What we did
Established in 1919, A&W made its name as the first chain of roadside restaurants, serving signature root beer and classic American food. Boomers fondly remember the “carhop era” and have strong associations with the iconic restaurant. Unfortunately, the same isn’t necessarily true for Millennials. With “A&W 2.0,” we developed a brand refresh that would remind Boomers what they love about A&W while simultaneously engaging a new generation of customers, coinciding with the development of new fast-casual restaurant concept.
Our basis for connecting with both targets for A&W was a branding identity internally known as “Hip Nostalgia.” With responsible consideration, we aimed to protect the brand’s established heritage and equity, even as we looked to chart a bold new path. Hip Nostalgia became the foundation for everything we built for A&W.
In developing a fresh identity rooted in the brand’s rich heritage, we looked back to look forward. Using a tried and true process, we closely traced the brand’s history to find a sense of timelessness, and connected it to the values of our audience, inspiring big creative thinking, dissecting ideas and judging our approach objectively against our working goals.
Tim Jones, Creative Director
“The historical significance of A&W is something that’s close to my heart. My mother was a manager at a local A&W in New England, and my dad would cruise the strip and go there for root beer floats almost every night. They met there, they got engaged there – it’s kind of that typical love story from that era. So, I’ve heard stories about A&W and those golden years my whole life, and was always fascinated by it.
The concept of ‘Hip Nostalgia’ was a melding of eras and cultures. We looked at what worked and what didn’t work for the brand over its 95+ years and curated those elements to form something that suited the brand’s identity and goals today. A big part of that was exploring the brand’s heyday as THE carhop and All-American fast food franchise in the 50’s and 60’s. So both embracing that history while being responsible about how we refresh it, we’ve arrived at something that’s both unique and true to A&W, an iconic American brand.”
Sarah Blasi, VP Marketing, A&W Restaurants
“Hip Nostalgia represents the intersection of our 98 years of heritage and the needs of today’s modern consumer. The concept made an immediate impact on our business and it’s become a permanent word in our vocabulary. So many teams before us have tried to identify a similar concept but have failed. Previous attempts have skewed too old or too young and have alienated consumers. Hip Nostalgia isn’t themed and can’t be dated, it essentially marries the brand to a time period that is classic and will never go out of style. It will grow with us for the next 98 years.”