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The top 20 restaurant ads of 2010

Spots from Starbucks, Domino's and Pizza Hut strike a chord with viewers

Restaurant advertisers stood out from the clutter on television last year, reaching consumers with messages more compelling than just discounts and low prices, according to research from Los Angeles-based firm Ace Metrix.

Chief executive Peter Daboll noted that the restaurant industry’s average Ace Score, which Ace Metrix calculates to measure TV commercials’ effectiveness, rose 16.3 percent in 2010 compared with 2009, greater than the 14.3-percent increase for all commercials in 2010 compared with the year before. The data signify that consumers are more receptive to advertisements from the country’s biggest restaurant brands, and that those chains are differentiating their messages better, Daboll said.

“The way most advertising is evaluated is that companies focus on their own ads, maybe in a focus group,” Daboll said. “We’re saying you have to look at it relative to everything else out there. Are you able to break through?”

Ace Scores, which range from 0 to 950, combine the evaluations of around 500 people surveyed per commercial, accounting for the ads’ “watchability” and persuasiveness. To measure the latter trait, consumers rate the commercials’ likeability, relevance, information, and ability to grab viewers’ attention or to connote change in a company or desirability of the product on the screen.

The highest-rated restaurant commercials of 2010, according to Ace Metrix:

Click here to view all the top commercials.

Of the 20 highest-rated commercials of 2010, Starbucks Coffee took the top spot in the restaurant segment — and was No. 8 across all industries — with its “Big Picture” advertisement that first aired in April, asking customers to be more environmentally conscious. The ad had an Ace Score of 681 out of 950.

Other chains also broke through with a cause-marketing focus in their commercials: Taco Bell tied for the No. 13 ad with its public-service announcement starring actor Mark Wahlberg illuminating the nation’s teen dropout crisis, and Outback Steakhouse tied for the No. 16 commercial, in which it thanked the nation’s armed services for their ongoing efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Ads with a philanthropy message tend to do well in terms of relevance and attention,” Daboll said. “People are not looking just to have products pushed on them. It’s also about, ‘What are you going to do for me?’ You see it with Starbucks, OSI [Restaurant Partners, Outback’s parent company] and Taco Bell. They really grab people’s attention.”

However, price- and value-oriented ads still break through quite a bit in the restaurant category, Daboll added, because “it’s still a tough economy, and we’re still value-conscious.” Pizza Hut landed in Ace Metrix’s top 20 with this approach, advertising its $10 any-size pizza deal in early 2010 and later its move to simplify pricing to $8, $10 and $12 for most pizzas. Taco Bell also broke through with commercials for its $2 meal deals and the Five Buck Box.

The third major trend to which viewers seemed to respond in 2010 was novelty, and not only related to product introductions or limited-time offers. The standout on this metric, Daboll said, was Domino’s Pizza, whose yearlong “Oh Yes We Did” campaign devoted to showcasing its reformulated pizza produced ads that landed at No. 2, No. 3 and No. 10 on Ace Metrix’s list of top restaurant ads.

“New products, or something people haven’t heard of before — people tend to respond to that,” Daboll said. “That’s certainly the case with the Domino’s ads and the way they relaunched themselves and created this identity around changing the quality of their ingredients.”

Domino’s also benefited from the campaign in the form of higher same-store sales all year, including a 14.3-percent increase in same-store sales for the first quarter of 2010.

“It’s remarkable,” Daboll said. “I know Domino’s has had sales success, but the thing highlighted most in our data is change. Consumers think the company’s moving in a new direction.”

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].

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