Arecent study of brand-promotion campaigns offers evidence that emphasis on branding or a rebranded image can pay off for businesses by influencing consumers’ purchase decisions.
Brands that scored highest in customer influence were those that had launched rebranding or brand-enhancement efforts, according to the Brand Marketers Report, which was released in January by the consulting firm Interbrand of New York.
The study, which assessed current and future trends in brand management, found that 35 percent of strong brand performers in 2006 had engaged in “significant” rebranding efforts. Of the 299 companies surveyed, 66 percent said they had launched rebranding campaigns during the past three years.
Like other marketers, restaurant chains periodically look to strengthen their brands with branding or rebranding campaigns, such as those last year by the Buffalo Wild Wings , Big Boy  and Saladworks  chains.
Beaner’s Coffee , a chain based in East Lansing, Mich., last spring tested a branding campaign and reported that customer traffic rose 12 percent as daily sales jumped13.4 percent over prior-year levels.
The 35-unit Kings chain, based in McKeesport, Pa., is focusing its campaign on Frownie, a brownie dessert it introduced in 2005 to compete with the Smiley cookie that competitor Eat’n Park has been selling for 20 years and continues to feature in its nearly 80 units in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
Kings’ campaign, created by Smith Brothers Advertising of Pittsburgh, consists of billboards and the chain’s first TV spots in 10 years. Kings also is developing a new menu, which it expects to roll out in June, and plans to remodel many of its units, according to chief financial officer Chris Whalen.
All of those efforts are aimed at giving Kings a brand “attitude” that attracts younger customers while maintaining the older core customer base, he said.
“We’re going to put a little something extra into all our food,” Whalen said. “Nothing to alienate anybody, but to give it a little bit of an attitude. And that’s where Frownie fits in.”
That’s because Frownie has attitude to spare, Whalen points out. In one TV spot the mascot is standing inside an elevator, and when an approaching woman asks him to hold the door, he hits the close-door button. When the door opens later, the elevator is filled with people. Frownie hits all the buttons and then jumps out.
“That’s one mean dessert,” a woman says, speaking the tagline found in each commercial.
Billboards show Frownie and such copy as “What are you smiling at?” and “Keep on Frownin’.”
Smith Brothers made Frownie the focus of the campaign because Kings has a good reputation for desserts, and Frownie has been a strong seller, said account manager Cliff Rankin.
Even lapsed Kings’ customers who participated in focus groups recognized Frownie from previous ads, Rankin said, and the goal is to get those customers back into the restaurants.
“All the advertising we were doing did a good job targeting the core customer, but the infrequent guests had blinders on,” Rankin said. “Kings was not in their consideration set.”
He called Frownie “disruptive” because he forces a reaction in people, and “the reaction is usually a smile.”
The 238-unit Taco Del Mar fast-casual chain, based in Seattle, is taking a more subdued approach in its multimillion-dollar branding campaign, which includes TV spots, direct mail, local-store marketing and point-of-purchase materials.
The chain, founded in 1992, felt it needed a branding campaign to support its aggressive growth plans and finally get a message out about its food quality, said Paul Curhan, vice president of marketing and advertising.
The 15-second TV spots, created by Grey Worldwide Northwest of Vancouver, British Columbia, open with an animated vignette declaring Taco Del Mar’s mission to “rid the world of traditional, plain-tasting” fast-food meals. The camera then cuts to food shots to focus on the chain’s ingredients.
The point-of-purchase material features product shots and copy promoting “robust flavor and hearty satisfaction.” The campaign also features a new tagline, “Delicious is our middle name,” to further emphasize Taco Del Mar’s flavor profiles.
“It’s really long overdue that we get our food message out there and talk about our point of difference,” Curhan said. “We don’t think we’ve done a good job in the past communicating our food message and story to the broader target.”
As Taco Del Mar aims to grow by more than 100 units this year, the time was right to move forward with a “focused message” about food quality, he said.
The branding effort also would include a revamped website and new franchise and sales material.
Taco Del Mar competes not only with other Mexican restaurants but also with such chains as Subway  because “the burrito is the new sandwich,” Curhan said. And by focusing on product quality, customers who want to trade up from fast-food meals or who don’t have time for a sit-down meal can be lured into his fast-casual alternative, he added.
“It’s really a broader potential audience,” Curhan said.