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Ad spot: Chili's touts 'bold' traits

Casual-dining chain attempts to keep value, menu flavor top of mind in new ad

Chili’s Grill & Bar debuted new commercials Monday that emphasize what the chain calls the bold flavors of its menu items and promote the new offerings on its $20 Dinner for Two menu and $6 Lunch Combos.

The ads combine humor with a tagline to “go bold” with flavorful additions to the value-driven menus.

“The ‘boldness’ element in this campaign resonated with Chili’s guests, as they associate our brand with having a boldness in both attitude and in flavor,” Claudia Schaefer, vice president of marketing and global strategy for Chili’s, said in a statement to Nation’s Restaurant News. “Many of the players in our competitive set are offering guests the value message — compelling and relevant in today’s environment. In these new spots, Chili’s is differentiating [itself] from competitors by offering the boldness of the flavor profile alongside a fresh take on the value message.”

New items on Chili’s $20 Dinner for Two menu include grilled shrimp tacos, margarita chicken tacos, honey-chipotle chicken quesadillas and grilled vegetable tacos. The commercials for this and the $6 Lunch Combos menus juxtapose a mundane office setting with humorous displays of boldness.

In one ad, a young woman responds to a co-worker’s invitation to Chili’s by lip-synching to ’60s blues singer–guitarist John Lee Hooker’s song “Boom Boom.” A voice-over adds, “Go bold with Chili’s $20 Dinner for Two,” while the new grilled shrimp tacos are shown.

Watch one of Chili’s new commercials; story continues below

Boston-based ad agency Hill Holiday, which has been Chili’s agency of record since 2007, created the commercials.

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Arjun Sen, president of Centennial, Colo.-based marketing consultancy ZenMango said Chili’s and its casual-dining competitors all are “leading with the denominator,” meaning that every brand is restricted in its marketing by price points they must promote to keep up with the others. In order to differentiate itself, the chain must advertise “something that only Chili’s can do,” he said.

“Everybody talks about bold foods, but unless they’re doing this in a way where we would say, ‘Only Chili’s could do that,’ they’re still just advertising the category,” Sen said. “Brands need to stop advertising the category and start advertising what they can do.”

He also noted that a lot of casual-dining chains are cautious to leave the value offers. “Chili’s and other chains need to differentiate … but they still have to hold on to 2-for-$20, because nobody wants to be the first to walk away from that.”

Driving traffic with new flavors on the $20 Dinner for Two menu is one of several sales-building strategies Chili’s has deployed to reverse declines from the past few years.

The brand has remodeled 61 restaurants to date, with a goal of renovating 250 units by the end of fiscal 2012, spokeswoman Stacey Sullivan said. And it introduced a new logo systemwide this summer, she said. Chili’s also recently celebrated its one-millionth Facebook “like” by rewarding that Facebook fan with free meals for a year, as part of a larger social-media initiative.

For its most recent fourth quarter ended June 29, Chili’s same-store sales rose 2.1 percent. Officials said during that earnings conference call with analysts that value strategies like Lunch Combos and the $20 Dinner for Two would remain crucial amid continuing economic uncertainty for the chain’s guests.

Chili’s, a division of Dallas-based Brinker International, operates 824 company-owned units and franchises another 475 locations in the United States. It has 235 international locations.

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN

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