Split USA is dressing up Wahoo's Fish Taco employees in a new type of marketing
JOSE MORALES, 22, wears the name of his employer on his sleeve, but the logo of one of his favorite skating brands, Split USA, is what appears on his Wahoo's Fish Taco uniform.
The $20 red-and-silver-foiled uniform T-shirt, which hasn't yet joined Split USA's other inventory in Oahu stores, is the first work uniform that Morales said he has been proud to wear out in public.
"Sometimes after work if I'm going to do something with friends or whatever, I'll wear it out," said Morales, whose employer refreshes his uniform with three T-shirts and a cool hat each season.
Co-worker Angela Malo said customers regularly ask where she buys her trendy T-shirts.
"Customers always want to know where I shop and my niece begged me to send her my uniform -- I finally had to tell her that I couldn't give away my work clothes," Malo said.
The pride Morales and Malo express in their uniforms is a two-for-one advertising win for Wahoo's Fish Taco and for Irvine, Calif.-based Split USA, both of whom reap equal benefits from a guerrilla marketing tactic that has reversed traditional sponsorship patterns. It's easy in Hawaii to find restaurants sponsoring sports teams or events, but it's not as common to find sports-minded companies like Spilt USA that support the restaurants.
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Jose Morales, left, and Suzie Kanakanui, Wahoo's Fish Taco employees, show off their Split USA T-shirts. Wahoo's Fish Taco Hawaii and Split USA have reversed traditional sponsorship patterns in that the surfing and skating apparel company is sponsoring a restaurant's uniform rather than the restaurant sponsoring a sports team or event. Below, Wahoo's co-owner Noel Pietsch displays some of the T-shirts' designs that include Wahoo's name.
The partnership between Spilt USA, a surfing and skating apparel company, and Wahoo's Fish Taco Hawaii
is both a sign of the times and of new trends to come, said Brook Garmann, who owns The Brand Strategy Group
in Hawaii along with partner Gloria Garvey.
As traditional forms of advertising have become fragmented by a plethora of choices ranging from new media to TIVO, the Internet, TV, cable, radio and print, more and more large companies and major marketers are using guerrilla tactics to express themselves, Garmann said.
"Cultural connection and co-branding of products make sense when an audience has a couple of brands they are really loyal to," she said. "The Split USA deal with Wahoo's allows Wahoo's to keep its youth perception. So if it works, and people respond to it, it will appear more and more"
The uniform deal between Split USA and Wahoo's is part of a newer type of guerrilla marketing called "influencer marketing," Garvey said. Brands that gravitate to this type of guerrilla marketing often use influencers such as hair stylists or nightclub DJs to promote a product or service in everyday conversation, Garvey said.
Traditional advertising will not go away, but as the consumer is inundated with messages, companies will continue to seek new ways to get their attention, Garvey said. Inevitably, this form of media -- as it is used more often and more frequently -- will become "traditional" and mainstream over time, she said.
"Restaurants/hip-clothing partnerships are starting to pop up in New York and L.A.; however, I think Split and Wahoo's are the first to bring this trend to Hawaii," said Noel Pietsch, who co-owns Wahoo's Fish Taco Hawaii along with her brother Mike and sister Stephanie.
Major media have reported that even McDonald's Corp. is seeking a clothing partner to re-do their uniforms. Tommy Hilfiger, P. Diddy and Russell Simmons all have been mentioned as potential partners, though McDonald's has yet to confirm a choice.
"More companies are recognizing that uniforms can play a key role in their branding," Mike Pietsch said. "Our employees are the first point of contact for our customers, and what they're wearing helps create an impression of our business. You can't underestimate the importance of having them look well-groomed and fashionable."
CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Johnlou Tanacio, left, and Jeriel Calamayan, Wahoo's Fish Taco employees, take time out to show off their Split USA T-shirts. The uniform deal with Split USA has helped Wahoo's brand itself as an energetic, fun place to work among prospective employees.
The uniform deal with Split USA also has helped Wahoo's brand itself as an energetic, fun place to work among prospective employees, Noel Pietsch said.
A cool uniform was part of the appeal for Jeno Kang, 23, who joined Wahoo's about seven months ago, he said.
"Having the freedom to express ourselves through our uniforms makes this a pretty chill, relaxed place to work," Kang said. "When I worked at Tony Roma's, I hated wearing the same old uniform to work everyday."
While uniform partnerships are so rare in Hawaii, few marketing experts could think of another example where they are being used. Nationwide, multinational companies such as Microsoft Corp., McDonald's and Apple Computer Inc. have used a variety of guerrilla marketing tactics as an effective way to engage customers, Garmann said.
The partnership between Split USA and Wahoo's in Hawaii, which has now spread to the West Coast, fits into the same category as Microsoft Corp.'s decision to paper Manhattan with 16,000 butterfly stickers or McDonald's advertising campaign that included a woman napping in her bed inside a crowded Hong Kong subway station, she said.
"A good example of local guerrilla marketing is the "arrow-in-a-U" U Down marketing, whose logo has appeared on freeway signs for several years but has only come under question because of the increasing danger of the placements that are being made," Garvey said.
Hawaii's political candidates and companies, like Red Bull and the Hungry Lion, have effectively used guerrilla marketing to promote their products in this state, she said.
"Co-marketing partnerships have been happening all over," said Anne Murata, who has served as state operations chair for the western division of International Council of Shopping Centers. "People are trying to find new avenues to get their brands exposed using cost effective methods."
Supplying Wahoo's with uniforms has been well worth the cost, Split USA representative Jason Katada said.
"Traditional marketing is so stale. If you want to get your message noticed, you have to think out of the box," said Katada, who is looking for similar partnership opportunities outside the restaurant industry.
IN RETURN for providing Wahoo's with free uniforms, Split USA gets to hang banners and other brand images inside the restaurant. The companies also are talking about co-sponsoring surfing contests and other events that will pull in their target customers.
"We're the innovators of the uniform deal in Hawaii," Katada said. "It's been very effective. Our revenues have doubled in the last several years."
While the uniform partnership between Wahoo's and Split USA is a low-key approach to guerrilla marketing, it works by pairing two strong brands that have the same youth skating and surfing culture market, said Garmann.
"It is a cultural connection that makes sense to the key audience, and it will most likely work," she said. "Over the long term, it can be very effective as both brands are trying to influence the same audience."
Similar guerrilla marketing partnerships in Hawaii have included Coffee Tea and Bean, which at one time advertised Charles Schwab on their coffee cups while at the same time Starbucks was advertising the movie, "Akeelah and The Bee," on theirs, she said.
Not only are co-partnerships effective in getting branding messages out, but they also help contain costs, said Carol Pregill, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii.
"As business costs, especially mortgages and rents rise, companies are trying to find ways to stretch their budgets," Pregill said. "There's no doubt about it, sharing resources to achieve common goals is a good idea in today's environment."