How a Castle Built on Cravings Slides into a New Audience

The world’s first fast food hamburger chain, founded in 1921, managed to survive the great depression, multiple wars, the ’60s, and any number of diet fads and arrive as the crave king today—how did they do it? By being authentic to their brand and continually reconnecting with their audience.

A line from the 2004 movie, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, perfectly captures how a lot of people feel about the brand. “As a Burger Shack employee for the past three years, if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that if you’re craving White Castle, the burgers here just don’t cut it. In fact, just thinking about those tender little White Castle burgers with those little, itty-bitty grilled onions that just explode in your mouth like flavor crystals every time you bite into one …”

In short, when you crave White Castle®, nothing else will do.

White Castle = Small “Slider” Hamburger

You don’t go to White Castle for a veggie wrap. You go because of the delicious hamburgers (affectionately known as “sliders,” now part of the lexicon for small sandwiches), cooked on top of onions. That’s what they do. Sure, they have onion rings, fries, and even breakfast, but so does everyone. That’s not what differentiates White Castle. It is and will always be the slider hamburger.

Don’t Run Away from Crave

For many companies, suggesting that their audience “craves” their product would be too direct. Not for White Castle. They not only suggest that the desire for White Castle can border on irrational, they embrace and encourage the idea. In fact, the word “crave” has been integral to their message since 1994, almost as critical as their name. In fact, variations of the word actually appear on the website more than the name White Castle, and they’ve created a Cravers Hall of Fame to highlight and recognize the length fans have gone to satisfy their cravings.


Destination Dining

Long before Harold and Kumar went chasing their cravings into the night, White Castle was a must stop on many road trips. As Wilson Vice President of Client Services, Tom Jaeger, tells it, “any time we went to Cincinnati with my dad, we had to stop at White Castle, because that’s what my dad did when he was young with my grandfather. Every time.”

White Castle restaurants aren’t franchised and haven’t appeared on every corner like other fast food restaurants. Centered mostly in the Midwest, they make trips to the Castle a special occasion for many people. The idea that the sliders are worth traveling for is encouraged through the White Castle mobile app and social experiences. A great example is the interactive YouTube™ Craver Adventure the brand created in 2016: White Castle’s Nibblers Road trip. The videos enable visitors to choose their own adventure on a wacky road trip while promoting the Nibbler side items.

Taking it Home

Because of the limited distribution, it was inevitable that fans would find a way to satisfy their cravings, no matter where they lived. Aficionados found that freezing and shipping White Castles didn’t compromise the flavor, even if it lacked the restaurant experience. The company seized on the idea, expanding into the frozen section of groceries nationwide, and ultimately even movie theaters and vending machines.

Be Yourself—But Not Too Serious

While other organizations might run away from partnership opportunities that seem unusual, White Castle has been willing to join their audience wherever they are. In addition to the aforementioned Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (an opportunity turned down by Krispy Kreme), the restaurants have been the setting for multiple editions of the show “Impractical Jokers,” where the stars hilariously act as employees and interact with real customers in their skits.

White Castle also sponsors and participates in the White Castle USA Luge Slider Search program, the official nationwide athlete recruitment tour of USA Luge. By giving young athletes, ages 9 – 13 opportunities at various locations around the country, they’re finding the next stars for USA and Olympic Luge teams, like Slider Search Graduate and Olympic medalist, Erin Hamlin.

Admit It—You’re Craving Now, Aren’t You?

White Castle has built a loyal audience that craves their products and everything they do. By being open to new opportunities and pushing into emerging channels, they continue to connect with new audiences to strengthen and grow their brand.

Learn more about how Audience plays an integral role for every brand.


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White Castle® is not a client of Wilson Advertising. All trademarked and copyrighted names, marks and logos are the property of their respective companies.