Background / Challenge:
The original Applebee’s, which was named T.J. Applebee’s Rx for Edibles & Elixirs, opened in Atlanta in 1980. The founders of the original restaurant, including Bill and T.J. Palmer, wanted to name the restaurant Appleby’s, but that spelling had already been registered. Today Applebee’s is the largest casual-dining chain in the world, with over 1,900 restaurants in 49 states, 15 international countries and one U.S. territory.
At Applebee’s, chicken wings had always been one of the restaurant’s top selling items, so in 2019, the company launched ’Neighborhood Wings’ (inspired by Applebee’s longstanding strapline “Eating Good In The Neighborhood”) as a virtual brand marketed via Uber Eats. When the pandemic continued through the summer of 2020, Applebee’s wanted to create a more dynamic wings concept – more independent from the Applebee’s brand – including a more unique and bolder menu created in partnership with Cheetos.
Applebee’s engaged WANT Branding to help create the new virtual brand with a new name and visual identity.
Over a rapid 6-week timeline, WANT Branding went to work delivering 2 rounds of unique names that could help the brand stand out and compete against both national and local wings brands.
Having created hundreds of names and shortlisted 50, one name was unanimously chosen: Cosmic Wings. The name was catchy, dynamic and fun, and designed to appeal to Gen-Z and millennial consumers.
The logo and brand identity were created in 2 weeks and the final solution was heavily inspired by 80s and retro imagery from shows like Stranger Things, as well as 80s music references used extensively by today’s pop music by artists like The Weeknd, Miley Cyrus, and Dua Lipa. The use of orange in the logo’s colors subtly plays into the Cheetos orange, too.
The new brand, Cosmic Wings, was launched on February 19, 2021 to great fanfare. Initial press reaction the brand has been overwhelmingly positive and confidence is high that the brand can help alleviate the dip in Applebee’s business caused by losses in casual dining due to Covid.
Stephen Bulgarelli, lead chef at Cosmic Wings, says the team tasted more than 1,000 wings while working on its recipes, aiming for flavors and trends that are “out of this world”—hence the chain’s name.