American burger chains occasionally make waves by pushing the marketing envelope.
Arby’s “Meat Mountain,” a sandwich that contains every type of animal protein available on the menuboard comes to mind — although that brainstorm was actually sparked by a customer request — along with Carl’s Jr. buzz-worthy ad series from a few years back featuring celebrity icon Paris Hilton taking the act of eating a burger to new Slo-Mo heights.
But those ventures outside the usual taste/convenience/value turf where fast-food advertisers like to live are timid in comparison to the wild rides on which Japanese burger chain Lotteria regularly takes its customers.
Founded in the early 1970s, Tokyo-based Lotteria, which now operates franchises in South Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar, offers the typical fast-food lineup of burgers, fries, fried chicken, wings and chicken fingers.
But the chain doesn’t just stick to the basics.
For instance: Two years ago, Lotteria capitalized on the popular Japanese anime series “Attack on Titan” (see poster) with a campaign few restaurateurs would dare to embrace.
Since the series is focused on eating as much as it is on fighting (the Titans’ main ambition is breaking into a walled city to devour the humans hiding within), the chain’s promotion made some sense.
But Lotteria turned the movie’s theme of giants eating humans on its head, offering giant burgers that humans could eat. It offered a special 10-patty “Attack on Titan Hamburgers and Jumbo French Fry” buckets, accompanied by limited edition key chains as a keepsake for Titan fans.
Actually, the Attack on Titan burgers and cheeseburgers came in three different sizes, featuring five, seven, or 10 patties. According to a company news release, they were referred to as five-, seven-, and 10-meter class burgers, a reference to the measuring system of the anime’s Titans.
High End Comes to Town
As Japanese media have regularly noted, Lotteria is the “Reigning King of Crazy” in the Japanese fast food industry. Along with its standard fare, such as the Hanwoo Bulgogi Burger and the Vegetable Rice Bulgogi Burger (with rice cake-type “buns” and a meat patty mixed with rice and veggies), the chain celebrated Valentine’s Day last year by offering patrons a concoction called the “Chocolate & Honey Mustard Grilled Chicken Burger.”
What’s not to love about that combination?
Now, the chain is set to launch one if its annual promotions, one that’s not quite so outlandish, but innovative nonetheless.
According to a news release, every year since 2010, Lotteria has come out with “luxury” hamburgers in honor of November 29, the so-called “Day of Good Meat.” Before asking why we can’t have a similar day here, it should be noted that in Japanese, the combination of “one-one-two-nine” can be pronounced to sound like the words “good meat” (technically, “ich-ich-ni-rokyu, or shortened to “ii-niku”).
This year, Lotteria patrons can look forward to a meaty creation called the “Matsuzaka Beef Hamburger,” which, according to tradition, will be sold on only three days, Nov. 27, 28 and 29.
Talk about putting some teeth into the throwaway marketing line about a new introduction being available for “a limited time only.”
The term Matsuzaka refers to beef sourced from the black-hided Japanese cattle known as “Kuroge Wagyu,” which are concentrated in the Matsuzaka region of Japan’s main island of Honshu — kind of equivalent to our Iowa or Nebraska, only without the endless acres of corn.
As most industry insiders know, Waygu cattle produce beef that is rich in marbled fat and is associated with the high-profile (and high-priced) Kobe beef.
For its Day of Good Meat promo, Lotteria is selling a 125-gram (4.4 ounce) Wagyu burger consisting of a beef patty using 100% Matsuzaka beef, along with a soy sauce-based onion dressing, plus tomatoes and onions.
And for those who enjoy sushi, the burger comes with a package of water-grown wasabi from the Shizuoka Prefecture, located on Honshu’s Pacific coast. The wasabi’s spicy tang is designed to complement the sweet onion sauce, and to add a touch of luxury, customers receive their Matsuzaka Beef Hamburger purchase in a specially designed box and bag that mimics high-end department store packaging.
Here’s the best part: The Matsuzaka Burger will be priced at only 2,000 yen ($20), complete with a regular-sized drink.
That might seem pricey, but it is Wagyu beef, and c’mon: It comes in a fancy box and bag you’d be proud to carry down the street.
If it ever makes it out of the restaurant.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and columnist.