How Cracker Barrel Is Shaking Up Its Marketing to Attract a New Generation of Fans

Country stars promote the brand on social media

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Cracker Barrel has an enthusiastic fan base among road trippers across the heartland and baby boomers alike, but the brand's biggest challenge is drawing in younger audiences.

"Cracker Barrel is a business that's doing well with really loyal fans, but we really need to attract that next generation of customers," said Don Hoffman, vp of marketing at Cracker Barrel.

The brand is trying to reach millennials through music and social media. During the lead up to last week's Academy of Country Music Awards, the company deviated from the typical brand activation and built the Cracker Barrel Content Creator Studio, which featured country music stars, beatboxing contests, dance offs and an Instagram-famous dog. The brand filmed the videos backstage at ACM Party for a Cause, a three-day music festival prior to the awards show in Las Vegas on April 3.

The Content Creator Studio produced more than 20 videos over three days by partnering with six social media influencers: YouTube beauty star and The Amazing Race competitor Blair Fowler, Instagram star Doug the Pug, American Ultimate Disc League player and trick shot artist Brodie Smith, beatboxer and Pitch Perfect 2 star 80Fitz, dancer Amymarie Gaertner, and magician and America's Got Talent finalist Collins Key.

Country artists including The Band Perry, Kimberly Schlapman of Little Big Town, Cole Swindell, Chris Young, Cam, Canaan Smith, Eric Paslay, Kelsea Ballerini, Kellie Pickler and Dan+Shay danced and beatboxed with the social media influencers and competed against each other in golf, Frisbee and cornhole. Videos also were shot in a beauty lounge, where female artists shared their beauty tips while male artists were asked to name various makeup and hair tools (and in most cases failed).

Cracker Barrel, as well as the social media influencers and country artists, tweeted and Instagrammed photos and videos in real time using the hashtag #CBStudio, and People magazine also retweeted photos from the studio.

"We want to grow our own social channels, and the key to that is to provide great content," Hoffman said. "Music partnerships like this give us a great opportunity to create a lot of engaging content." 



Country music fans make up a large portion of Cracker Barrel's customer base, and country's crossover appeal makes it a beneficial brand play, Hoffman says. "Country has an incredibly strong, loyal following, which is part of our guest base and a part of our brand heritage. But what's happening in the country music industry is, there's more crossover, and as a genre, it's evolving now. Dolly Parton and Katy Perry performed together at the ACMs. A lot of country artists are moving towards pop, or rock." During the three-day festival, content from the effort reached more than 70 million people on social media.

@ChristineBirkne Christine Birkner is a Chicago-based freelance writer who covers marketing and advertising.