Can breasts be considered a brand differentiator?

Hooters of America is suing Twin Peaks for theft of trade secrets. The details of the charges in this case go well beyond the creative use of cleavage in marketing a restaurant. Hooters is upset by the fact that a former employee downloaded a substantial amount of information involving management, recruitment, distribution and sales and then became a partner with the company that created Twin Peaks. Fishy, we agree. Setting the real case aside, the lawsuit brought up a slew of intriguing lines of thought for restaurant marketers.

The first obvious thought is: Hooters has trade secrets? As in, boobs and beer make a great pair? Or maybe the fact that comfort food and cleavage in combination tend to draw consistent crowds of predominantly male working class patrons? Surely bar food and breasts form too broad a niche to be claimed as the protected territory of one company.  If they didn’t, Hooters would have grounds to sue other national chains like Tilted Kilt, as well as a host of regional Hooters clones such as Florida’s Winghouse. Differentiation is an important part of successful branding, but I’m not sure boobs in tight shirts is unique enough to stake a claim.

Also, wait a minute, didn’t Hooter’s make a point long ago of stating they’re all about the wings, not the breasts. Successful differentiation has to be not only specific, but also consistent and well-established. In Hooters’ case, are they or aren’t they distinguishing the brand based mainly on look-but-don’t-touch hot, stacked babes? Walking on both sides of that line makes defending a brand against copycats a much harder job.

The challenge for restaurant marketers comes in balancing two good strategies that appear to be in direct contradiction to each other. Basing your brand message on a model that’s been proven successful makes perfect business sense. On the other hand, emphasizing what makes you stand out from the crowd is the best way to develop brand loyalty and define your market. It’s possible to do both at the same time. Just make sure that having staked your claim, it’s ground you’re comfortable standing on for a good, long time.