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Applebee’s seeking new ad agency

Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and Bar is searching for a new creative advertising agency, chain officials said Monday.

The casual-dining chain, which spends more than $100 million annually on advertising, said it hired Morgan Anderson Consulting to conduct a comprehensive review of its creative advertising program.

For the past five years, the 2,000-unit Applebee’s has worked with New York-based McCann, which has been invited to participate in the review, officials said.

The review is scheduled to conclude by the end of the first quarter next year.

The move comes after Applebee’s parent DineEquity Inc. last week blamed a dip in same-store sales at the brand on a failed promotion for its Stacked, Stuffed & Topped menu during the third quarter.

Officials, however, said the unsuccessful promotion didn’t have anything to do with the decision to review its agency account.

“We’ve been thinking about this for a while,” said Nancy Mays, Applebee’s spokeswoman.

Over the past several years, Applebee’s has undergone a menu overhaul, with about 80 percent of offerings new or improved, she said.

The chain also has been revitalizing units, refining its beverage strategy and building social-media marketing efforts.

“We want an agency that will take us to the next level,” Mays said.

Becky Johnson, senior vice president, marketing and culinary, for Applebee’s Services Inc., said in a statement that “Applebee’s recognizes the contributions that have been made by McCann over the years and what they’ve helped us accomplish.”

However, she added: “We’ve made significant changes to our food, beverage, menu, buildings and marketing communications in the past year. Given those changes — and the ever-shifting consumer landscape — we need to continue to evolve how we grow the health of our brand.”

The review will not impact Applebee’s ongoing relationship with media-buying agency Universal McCann, a sister company to McCann. Both are owned by mega-holding company Interpublic Group of Companies, or IPG.

Last week, Glendale, Calif.-based DineEquity said same-store sales for Applebee’s dipped 0.3 percent in the third quarter, largely due to slower traffic, after more than a year of positive sales trends.

Julia Stewart, DineEquity chairwoman and chief executive, attributed the results in part to the Stacked Stuffed & Topped promotion introduced in July, which she said “failed to resonate with guests.”

The promotion was pulled early and replaced in August with the return of Applebee’s popular two-for-$20 deal.

Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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