The billions of dollars spent on restaurant-chain advertising have typically been focused on value, convenience, service or speed, but today, ads are more and more centered on the culinary characteristics of chains or menus.
Burger King changed its “Have it your way” to “culinary collaboration,” for example, and Red Lobster isn’t touting casual-dining price points, but fishermen searching for the best seafood to place on the chain’s wood-fired grill. Taco Bell and KFC have promoted quality, fresh ingredients and even the presence of “real chefs” in their kitchens.
In its “What’s Hot” survey looking forward to 2011, the National Restaurant Association reported that “farm-branded ingredients” would be among the top-10 menu trends this year. And it’s no secret American consumers have become more aware of everything food-related, from cooking techniques to the source of ingredients. The proliferation of food television programs and celebrity chefs providing more access to dining, cooking and culinary education are the fuel behind this fire.
Despite the recession and its lagging recovery, “artisan” has replaced “value” as a marketing buzzword, a recent USA Today article reported. A commercial for Domino’s new Artisan Pizza line, for example, featuring former "Top Chef" contestant Fabio Viviani, is just one piece of proof.
Nation’s Restaurant News collected commercials — both old and new — from a range of chain restaurants to highlight the changing landscape of marketing and the consumers those efforts try to reach.
First up: Domino's
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With its “You Got 30 Minutes” promotion, the pizza chain guaranteed deliveries of its pies within 30 minutes. This commercial from 2008 promotes the speediness of the service.
In September 2011, Domino’s enlisted former "Top Chef" contestant Fabio Viviani to promote its Artisan Pizzas — Spinach & Feta, Italian Sausage & Pepper Trio and Tuscan Salami & Roasted Veggie. Although the ad campaign highlights the ingredients and craftsmanship of the pizzas, the company acknowledges with a wink its quick-service roots.
Next: Burger King
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In a 2008 commercial that emphasizes value, Burger King’s former mascot The King stuffs cash in the pockets of the quick-service chain’s customers. In the ad, Burger King says it has “all-day value all wrapped up.”
In September 2011, Burger King dismissed its King mascot for a new series of commercials that focuses on ingredients. The first of these ads promoted a new California Whopper hamburger, highlighting the food’s freshness and quality.
Next: Romano's Macaroni Grill
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Romano's Macaroni Grill:
While a 2009 ad campaign promoting its Mediterranean Grill menu line featured attractive food shots, all commercials in the series ended with a reference to pricing, noting that the line’s dishes started at $9.99.
In commercials from 2011, the casual-dining chain casts a fine-dining glow on its restaurant dining rooms and food, with gourmet-style items from its new menu, such as lobster ravioli and pasta carbonara, pictured in close-up.
Previous: Burger King
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In a commercial from 2009, KFC focused on the struggling economy and rising gas prices. The ad promotes the brand’s $2.99 lunch deal as a way to save cash to make up for spending more at the pump.
In a 2011 commercial advertising the relaunch of KFC’s grilled chicken, price is never mentioned. The ad talks about taking pride in being KFC and how the chain’s cooks met the challenge of using top-quality ingredients for its menu, showing various cooks marinating, seasoning and grilling the new chicken.
Next: Taco Bell
Previous: Romano's Macaroni Grill
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Taco Bell focused on its 79-, 89- and 99-cent menu items in a 2008 ad that showed two young adults going through the drive-thru and rapping their order to the speaker. The lyrics focus on the large amount of food the two customers can get with just the change found in the car, which is especially helpful because, “I got to pay rent.”
In Taco Bell’s latest commercial for its 99-cent Chicken Flatbread, the chain focuses on what appears to be a professional chef stylishly cooking the sandwich by hand, from slicing the chicken to shredding the cheese and grilling the sandwich over an open flame.
Next: Red Lobster
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In an ad from 1996, Red Lobster strictly focused on the chain’s new low prices. With testimonials from “real customers,” the commercial drove home that customers could get a large quantity of food at a low cost.
Red Lobster’s 2011 campaign “Sea Food Differently” features the brand’s employees talking about the quality of their ingredients. In this ad, a Red Lobster fisherman talks about fishing in Alaska to find the freshest crab possible, closing with the statement, “If I wouldn’t put it on my table at home, I wouldn’t bring it in.”