The XX Factor

Beyoncé Song Lyrics Can Work Better Than Ads—Just Ask Red Lobster

Beyoncé connects the seafood restaurant with good sex in “Formation.”

Beyoncé laid out her quid pro quo relationship between sexual pleasure and reasonably priced seafood in a lyric from her Internet-busting new single, “Formation”: “When he fuck me good I take his ass to Red Lobster,” she says on the track. It’s a potent message to hungry lovers out there—please your partner, or you shall starve—and a hearty endorsement of a restaurant chain that’s struggled to stay afloat in recent years. The Beyhive waited impatiently for Red Lobster’s inevitable Twitter response, which came several hours after the song dropped.

The tepid pun rests on Red Lobster’s Old Bay–seasoned Cheddar Bay biscuits, completely avoiding the fabulous sexual implications of the line and edging uncomfortably close to a crack about “old Bey,” which would likely get the restaurant a visit from the Beygency. The people hung their collective head in disappointment.

“Our bad. Last night got really busy for some reason,” Red Lobster fake-apologized, tweeting a link to a Buzzfeed roundup of people who promised to visit a franchise after Bey’s validation. “You try to bake Cheddar Bay Biscuits and tweet at the same time!” the restaurant’s poor social media manager wrote elsewhere, along with the saddest hashtag of all time: #harderthanitlooks. (José Cuervo got a less memorable mention in the song, and their tweet in response was even dumber than Red Lobster’s.)

Red Lobster’s social media fumbles hardly mattered. On Sunday, the day after the single dropped, restaurants saw a 33 percent bump in sales over last year, and the brand trended on Twitter for the first time in its history. Beyoncé has had similar effects on other companies she’s promoted (with the notable exception of perennial second-placer Pepsi, her official cola since 2002). In 2013, a week after Beyoncé danced in H&M swimwear in her video for “Standing on the Sun,” the clothing brand experienced its highest-ever spike in social media discussion, mostly centered on the Bey video.

Song lyrics can be even more effective than outright ads when it comes to celebrity endorsements. Luxury brands such as Versace and Tom Ford have reaped much goodwill from fans of hip-hop artists who’ve promoted them; a mention in a song gives the artist “a degree of separation from the brand” and creates “more-organic forms of promotions that people don’t expect,” according to advertising executive Jeff Barrett. It works for low-brow brands, too: In 2005, McDonald’s hired a firm to help it encourage hip-hop stars to shout out the Big Mac in their tracks. A 2013 study found that just four alcohol brands—Patrón, Hennessy, Grey Goose, and Jack Daniel’s—made up 52 percent of brand mentions in the songs on Billboard’s most popular song lists from 2009, 2010, and 2011. Often, they were tied to sponsorship or endorsement deals. In 2012, after netting an endorsement agreement with Coors, country singer Jason Aldean changed the lyrics to a song that mentioned Texas beer brand “Shiner Bock,” subbing in “Rocky Tops.” 

“Beyoncé knows how to sell Beyoncé and Pepsi knows how to sell Pepsi,” David Schwab of Octagon First Call’s “celebrity acquisition unit” told Forbes when the star inked a $50 million deal with the soda brand. Red Lobster’s customer traffic has plummeted in recent years, a hint that it doesn’t quite know how to sell Red Lobster. Luckily, Beyoncé’s magic touch will turn even a mediocre shrimp platter into gold. Other entities that have earned her favor (like, say, oh I don’t know, Hillary Clinton) can only hope for the same results.