Restaurant marketers looking to tap into consumers’ holiday spirit would be served best by using seasonal tie-ins along with a brand’s long-term marketing message, according to a new study from marketing research and consulting firm Ace Metrix.
IHOP and Outback Steakhouse are two recent examples of chains that ran holiday-themed ads that scored well with surveyed consumers, said Los Angeles-based Ace Metrix.
The firm’s vice president, Jack McKee, advises restaurant chains to position themselves as a shopper’s favorite foodservice choice rather than a favored holiday destination.
“If you do a holiday-theme commercial, it has to be relevant to the general product and value proposition of your restaurant,” McKee said. “You can’t do a holiday-theme ad for its own sake. The holiday tie-ins in IHOP’s and Outback’s ads are very consistent with their standard advertising and branding.”
AceMetrix uses a proprietary Ace Score — based on how watchable and persuasive consumers rate the commercials in daily surveys — to determine how well television ads resonate. Both IHOP and Outback Steakhouse’s Ace Scores each tallied above the restaurant industry norm of 579 out of a possible 950.
The holiday IHOP commercial highlighted the chain’s three varieties of Holiday Hotcakes for $4.99: white-chocolate chip mint, sweet eggnog and pumpkin praline. The person eating the pancakes and later giving an IHOP gift card to his mail carrier turns out to be Ebenezer Scrooge. IHOP’s commercial’s Ace Score of 604 was the highest of any restaurant industry holiday ad, McKee said.
Watch IHOP’s commercial; story continues below
At Outback, the brand ran a holiday-theme commercial for the third year in a row, and the spot is the highest-performing holiday ad the brand has ever executed, according to Ace Metrix data. The commercial tallied an Ace Score of 600. The ad features a sailboat with Christmas lights and people wearing Santa hats while cooking sirloin and shrimp over a fire. It highlights $11.99 dinner combinations.
Watch Outback’s commercial here; story continues on next page
McKee was particularly interested in Outback’s tie-in to its gift-card offer of a free $20 certificate with the purchase of $100 in gift cards.
“Outback does a gift card focus during other seasons, like for ‘dads and grads’ in early summer,” McKee said. “To see how well this tie-in works [for gift card sales] is another question, but that’s been something they’ve done consistently. They’ve tried to position their products in the context of the holidays, and mixing themes together can be risky, but it paid off here.”
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Boston Market, Denny’s and Golden Corral also deployed holiday-theme commercials recently, but McKee said those brands achieved Ace Scores at or below the industry norm because they either did not call out the season explicitly enough or their references to the holidays did not fit with longer-term branding strategies as seamlessly as they did for IHOP and Outback.
Boston Market garnered an Ace Score of 577 for its commercial advertising the Market Feast family meal. The ad referenced the season only with text reading, “Holiday catering available.”
Watch Boston Market’s commercial; story continues below
Denny’s advertised its Milk and Cookies Shake and Christmas Cookie Pancakes as part of its commercial tying in to the holiday movie “Arthur Christmas.”  The spot earned an Ace Score of 556.
Watch Denny’s commercial; story continues below
Golden Corral’s reference to the season was tacked on at the end of a commercial promoting its new seafood station, in which the announcer invites viewers to throw their holiday parties in one of Golden Corral’s free party rooms. That ad garnered an Ace Score of 554.
Watch Golden Corral’s commercial