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The Apprentice Loves Quick Service
Five quick-service chains have been featured on NBC’s primetime reality show. Most recently, contestants debated wearing chicken suits to help market an El Pollo Loco product. That’s good TV, the producers say. And the brands say the drama is good for sales.
Dairy Queen executives with Donald Trump.
Dairy Queen: Aric Nissen, vice president of brand marketing; Michael Keller, chief brand officer; and Donald Trump. Photo provided by Dairy Queen

Quick-service restaurants make for good television. At least, that’s what NBC executives think.

The network’s reality show, The Apprentice, hosted by Donald Trump, has featured Arby’s, Dairy Queen, Domino’s Pizza, Burger King, and most recently, El Pollo Loco.

“Everybody can relate to these sorts of restaurants,” says Jay Bienstock, executive producer of The Apprentice, whose producer credits include Survivor and VH1’s Behind the Music. “We’ve all been in them, and a lot of us have actually worked them.”

In its sixth season and known for Trump’s catch phrase, “You’re fired!” The Apprentice depicts businessmen and businesswomen competing for a one-year, $250,000 job at one of Trump’s companies.

Everyday events at quick-service restaurants are great visuals. But sizzling grease and colorful menu boards aren’t the only qualities the show sees in quick-service chains.

“One of the reasons they called us was we were coming off one of our best years in Dairy Queen history,” says Michael Keller, chief brand officer for Dairy Queen. “[In] 2004, we were a rejuvenated, revitalized brand…At the time, we were on people’s radar screens.”

El Pollo Loco, a 360-unit Mexican chain, was chosen because The Apprentice wanted to show America “that business is not always about Fortune 500 monsters,” Bienstock says. “We didn’t want to just limit the universe to major mega companies, because that’s not the way the business world works.”

Quick-Service Drama

In a January episode, contestants were charged with creating a new version of El Pollo Loco’s signature Pollo Bowl. Whoever sold the most bowls won a private concert on the beach with legendary singer Andrea Bocelli.

“Team Kinetic” came up with a Paradise Pollo Bowl, which fused mango pineapple with the signature grilled chicken. “Team Arrow” offered the Chicken Tortilla Bowl.

When Kinetic chose two fruits as the selling point, “I knew that it was going to be an issue because it’s polarizing,” says Karen Eadon, chief marketing officer for El Pollo Loco. “There are a lot of people who don’t like fruit on warm chicken.”

Eadon was right. Team Kinetic lost. But it came down to better marketing by Team Arrow, the judges said.

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