The Captain D's Challenge

Coke vs. Pepsi. Apple vs. Microsoft. Ford vs. Chevy. Captain D's vs. Red Lobster?


The seafood restaurant heavyweights don't exactly drum up visions of all-out advertising brawls. So far, this rivalry is one-sided. It stems from a 30-second TV spot Captain D's initially aired in September in which a company spokesman asks Red Lobster customers leaving the restaurant to sample a few Captain D's menu items and claims they could have saved $30 or $45 by dining at Captain D's.

So Red Lobster parent company Darden Restaurants sent a cease-and-desist letter to Captain D's demanding it pull the spot. When Captain D's refused, Darden complained to the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Division (NAD) in November, calling the ad's price and product comparisons inaccurate and misleading.

Captain D's declined to participate in the review, which is uncommon, and NAD referred the matter to the Federal Trade Commission, says NAD spokeswoman Linda Bean, adding that her division handles about 180 cases per year.

For now, Darden is taking the high road. "We are addressing the issue through the proper channels, and we will take appropriate action based on the outcome," says a Darden spokesperson, declining to elaborate.

Then this week, Captain D's took off its gloves again by releasing a follow-up spot in which the company spokesperson rips the cease-and-desist letter to shreds and tosses it in the air outside a Red Lobster restaurant. (Check out the spot at The company is also giving away 1,000 "I Refuse to Cease and Desist" T-shirts.

Captain D's bold ad reminds me of a 1994 TV spot in which Polar Beverages' polar bear mascot crushed a can of Coke, discarded it in a recycling bin marked "Keep The Arctic Pure," grabbed a can of Polar seltzer from the icy Arctic water and guzzled it. Did it work? Yes and no. Coca-Cola Co. took the matter to U.S. District Court in Boston, which ruled that the ad implied Coke was impure and ordered Polar to revise it. But Polar received a lot of press and reinforcement from loyal customers.

In today's economic climate, the need to aggressively promote brand awareness and value consciousness to differentiate yourself from the competition is more imperative than ever, and Captain D's is accomplishing just that in its advertising. But did it go too far by inaccurately comparing its prices and products to Red Lobster's? That's up to the FTC to decide.

In the meantime, a little press never hurts. 


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