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Why Are Franchises Trying So Hard to Be Hip?


Food trucks, fake mustaches and mason jars seem more at home in an artsy street fair than in the marketing playbook of a mega-franchise. However, more and more restaurant franchises are attempting to tap into the ultimate indie/alternative millennial market by adopting the trappings of the modern hipster.

7-Eleven recently announced that it would be selling Slurpees in plastic mason jars and straws with attached mustaches. The items, which 7-Eleven describes as "on-trend Slurpee accessories" are clearly inspired by long-time hipster staples: the Pinterest-friendly mason jar (minus its environmentally-friendly glass status) and the ironic mustache.

7-Eleven, in many people's minds, is anything but hip, despite its moves last year to start stocking dry roasted edamame and fine wine. However, it's hardly the only franchise to adopt hipster favorites in hopes of upping its popularity in the millennial market.

Related: Will Franchising Ever Be as Sexy as Tech? Subway Thinks So.

TGI Fridays recently announced it would be traveling around the country with food trucks. The trucks would be accompanied by trendy young men who look like an amalgamation of hipster stereotypes, carrying photographs and decked out in vests and plaid.

Of course, the current biggest player in the hip, millennial market right now is Yum Brands. Taco Bell specifically has taken efforts to appeal to millennial and hipster culture with the Feed the Beat music program and a plethora of ironic offerings, including t-shirts, onesies and skateboards.

"The way I believe our brand is positioned is it's a brand that drives culture," Taco Bell CEO Brian Niccol told earlier this year.

Franchises hope that by slapping their labels on hipster staples, they will not only be able to turn a profit, but also get a huge boost on social media. The question remains: will hipsters buy into brand marketing?

Related: The Real Reason Taco Bell Made the Waffle Taco

Results so far seem mixed. Critics have found recent franchise's use of hipster-esque items to be completely out of touch, with headlines such as TGI Fridays Has Artisanal Food Trucks, And Everything Is Wrong With The World and 7-Eleven Just Killed Whatever Remained of Hipsterism. However, while the response to Taco Bell's new breakfast menu and merchandise hasn't been completely positive, it has picked up steam as one of the biggest stories in social media marketing thus far in 2014.

The difference? Unlike TGI Fridays, Taco Bell has never attempted an earnest approach to coopting hipster culture. Instead of outright copying trends that are slightly stale, like mustache attachments and food trucks, it goes hipster by crafting a slightly edgy image and rolling out plenty of absurd merchandise.

Few franchises will ever be seen as truly hip by younger customers. Franchises should come to terms with this, realizing coopting hipster-friendly items would be perceived as "inauthentic." Instead, mega-chains' best bet for drawing in millennials is crafting a slightly off-kilter brand that hipsters can, if nothing else, enjoy "ironically."

Related: TGI Fridays Gets Into the Food Truck Game

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