Benihana’s Marketing Misstep: Ignoring the Power of Digital Marketing

by Toby

January 12, 2024

Benihana's Marketing Misstep - Lessons Learned

Lessons Learned for Any Business Marketing to Consumers

Benihana's recent opening in Temecula, CA, reveals a critical oversight in its marketing strategy: the underutilization of digital advertising.

I became aware that it was now open only after seeing the below billboard on the highway, which was a full three months post-opening.

Benihana Billboard Temecula - New Opening

Benihana Billboard Temecula - New Opening

Being an online marketer and considering this is a well-known brand, I was curious if the iconic Japanese brand was implementing any digital marketing to support this opening. Clearly, it was spending heavily on a billboard. 

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Was Benihana Utilizing Facebook Ads to Promote its Opening?

With page transparency on any Facebook page, you can check the ads any company is running. 

For Benihana, I found several general ads that started running around the opening date of this location, but all the ads were focused geographically nationwide and not specific to a location.

There were NO local Facebook ads announcing that the Temecula location was now open. Another reason why I was unaware of its opening until I saw the billboard.

The only Facebook promotion I could find was a Facebook post announcing the Temecula opening (below), which reached almost nobody in Temecula and had zero impact on any measurable sales. 

A side note:
Without using Facebook ads, organic Facebook posts have almost no reach, which means page posts have almost no impact on business outcomes like new customers, sales, and profit.

The below Facebook post (not an ad, just a page post) received an anemic 24 “likes” and 4 comments. 

Benihana Facebook Post New Opening

Benihana Facebook Post Announcing New Opening - Page Posts Have No Reach, and No Impact

Limitations of Traditional vs Digital Ads

The example with the Benihana billboard serves as a prime example of the inherent limitations of traditional media advertising. An employee at our company has driven by the Benihana billboard daily for weeks and never noticed it.  

Traditional Advertising is Static

Unlike digital platforms, billboards and traditional advertising are inherently static. Traditional ads cannot interact or engage with the audience, nor can they adapt their message to the changing preferences or behaviors of their audience.

Traditional Advertising is Carpet Bombing

This static nature of these ads results in what can be described as a "carpet bombing" approach to advertising, where the same message is broadcast indiscriminately to a broad audience. 

Traditional Advertising - Indiscriminate Targeting - Carpet Bombing

Traditional Advertising - Indiscriminate Targeting - Carpet Bombing

Such a method lacks the precision of digital strategies, where ads can be tailored and targeted to specific demographics, interests, behaviors, actions, and likes. 

Tracking Results is Difficult to Measure

Additionally, measuring the effectiveness and reach of traditional mediums like billboards is challenging. At best, you can measure a lift in sales with the billboard against the times when the billboard was not running. But that method is incredibly inaccurate. 

Without concrete metrics to track engagement or conversion rates, it's difficult to gauge the true impact of these advertisements on the intended audience, making it a less efficient tool in the modern marketer's arsenal.

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The Underutilized Potential of Targeted Digital Advertising in Local Markets

In comparison, digital marketing offers numerous advantages for businesses to tap into and reach their ideal target audience.

Look No Further Than Consumer Behavior

Various studies have shown that people check their phones 200 or more times daily. 

Nobody is reading a magazine 200 times a day or driving by a billboard 200 times per day. 

Toby Danylchuk, 39 Celsius Web Marketing Consulting

Toby Danylchuk

Today, you must be where your customers’ eyeballs are, which is online, on their phones, and on desktops.

Digital Marketing Facebook Ad Targeting Example for Benihana

One of the essential advantages of using ads on Facebook and Instagram is the ability to target specific demographics and interests. 

Here’s an example:
Below, I set a radius around the new Benihana restaurant and selected people on Facebook and Instagram who reside in that area AND who have an interest in Benihana and Japanese cuisine. With this segmentation, I found over 400,000 people who are highly likely to want what you have to offer. 

Why would you not be targeting these people all the time if you were Benihana?

Facebook Ads Targeting for Benihana Japanese Cuisine

Facebook Ads Targeting for Benihana & Japanese Cuisine

Targeting Based on Engagement 

With Facebook and Instagram ads, you can retarget people based on their interactions with the ads, too. Here’s a short list of how people can interact with your ads, which can be used to retarget those same people. 

Anyone who:

  • Clicked on an ad
  • Visited a landing page
  • “Liked” commented, or shared an ad
  • Watched a video ad to a certain length of time
  • Messaged the brand on Facebook or Instagram
  • Interacted with an event

And then, you can take digital marketing to a whole new level…

Imagine if Benihana had created a landing page with offers that captured prospect emails in anticipation of the grand opening and used Facebook ads to drive prospects to the page. 

A list of emails and phone numbers collected this way is a marketable asset you can use and tap into consistently. The company can feed those contacts into an email or SMS campaign at a later date to promote the restaurant. 

Here’s an example:

Restaurant Landing Page Example Collecting Customer Info

Restaurant Landing Page Example Collecting Customer Info

In comparison, with traditional ads like billboards, there is no focused segmentation other than the fact that people drive on a freeway. How much wasted ad spending is built into the billboard? A lot! 

What Could Benihana Have Done to Nail the Digital Marketing?

Any consumer-oriented business should have a speed-to-ramp process for opening a new location that includes ads on Facebook and Google to build anticipation.

Here’s a short list of digital marketing tactics the company could have used to make its marketing far more successful:

  • Teaser Campaigns: Create a series of teaser ads leading up to the opening, revealing small details about the new location, special menu items, or unique features to build excitement.
  • Countdown Ads: Use countdown features in ads to create a sense of urgency and excitement as the opening date approaches.
  • Event Creation and Promotion: Create a Facebook Event for the grand opening and use ads to promote it. Encourage RSVPs and shares to increase visibility and anticipation.
  • Targeted Ads for Local Audience: Use Facebook’s targeting tools to reach potential customers in the vicinity of the new location. This can include targeting by geographic location, interests (like Japanese cuisine, dining out, or cultural experiences), and demographics.
  • Engaging with Local Influencers: Collaborate with local influencers and food bloggers to create buzz. Use sponsored posts or influencer marketing to reach a wider audience.
  • Behind-the-Scenes Content: Share behind-the-scenes content like the restaurant setup, menu planning, or staff training to engage the audience and create a personal connection.
  • Interactive Content: Create polls, quizzes, or contests related to Benihana’s cuisine or the new location. For example, a quiz about Japanese cuisine or a contest to win a free meal at the new location.
  • Exclusive Offers and Promotions: Advertise special offers, like discount coupons or free appetizers, redeemable during the first few weeks of the opening.
  • Virtual Tour Ads: If the space is ready before opening, share a virtual tour of the new restaurant to pique interest.
  • Lead Generation Ads for Reservations: Use Facebook’s lead generation ads to allow potential customers to book reservations in advance of the opening.
  • Customer Testimonials and Reviews in Ads: Share positive testimonials and reviews from other Benihana locations to build trust and credibility.
  • Email List Building: Use Facebook ads to encourage sign-ups for a newsletter, offering exclusive news and deals related to the new location.


Benihana's oversight in not prioritizing digital marketing for its new Temecula location is a stark reminder of the changing landscape in consumer business marketing. 

By clinging to traditional advertising methods like billboards, it missed out on the vast, targeted reach and engagement offered by digital platforms, resulting in diminished exposure, lower sales, and decreased profitability. 

This scenario underscores a crucial lesson for all retail consumer-oriented businesses: Embrace digital marketing strategies now to significantly enhance market presence, sales, and profits, or risk being overshadowed in an increasingly digital world.

If you’re not leveraging digital marketing to its full potential, start today. Reach out to us now to find out how we can help you grow sales and profitability for your business.

About the author 

Toby is the co-founder of 39 Celsius. He has over 20 years of digital marketing experience and has started several companies throughout his career. He's an expert in SEO, Social Media Ads, Google Ads, Marketing Automation, and more. He has a BA in Chemistry/Biochemistry from UC San Diego and an MBA from SDSU.

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