Applebee’s launched Monday a new advertising campaign designed to highlight a new-and-improved, food-focused brand, along with a “Fresh Flavors of Summer” menu with seasonal ingredients.
The campaign is the first produced by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the Boulder, Colo.-based agency that the 2,000-unit chain hired in March. It features a new tagline: “See You Tomorrow.” The message: Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill & Bar is a place for every day, not just for special occasions.
The campaign includes a series of television, radio and outdoor ads, along with in-store elements. Applebee’s has also reworked its website and created a more mobile-phone friendly web page.
Mike Archer, Applebee’s president, said the campaign also highlights overall changes at the Kansas City, Mo.-based chain designed to deliver an experience that brings guests back.
“‘See You Tomorrow’ isn’t just a line in a commercial. It’s our commitment to build on the strengths that made Applebee’s a foundation in the neighborhood and to do what it takes going forward to earn our guests’ business every day,” he said in a statement. “‘See You Tomorrow’ is how we will tell our story, literally every day, in every booth and on every plate, in a new and welcoming environment that invites guests to focus on our high-quality ingredients, prepared perfectly for them.”
Since the Glendale, Calif.-based company that became DineEquity Inc. acquired Applebee’s in 2007, the brand has been going through a revitalization effort that has included remodels and a menu overhaul.
By the end of this year, more than half of Applebee’s restaurants will have a new look, including a new logo on signage and awnings, redesigned interiors, and a revamp of the bar.
The Tiffany-style stained-glass lamps and 3-D pop art that once defined Applebee’s are gone, and each restaurant’s décor attempts to better reflect the neighborhood where it is located.
Company officials say the changes appear to be working.
Restaurants that have completed the upgrade are seeing mid-single-digit increases in sales, the company said in May after reporting first-quarter results. Applebee’s domestic systemwide same-store sales for the quarter were up 1.2 percent. However, that increase was driven mostly by a higher average check that was offset by a decline in traffic.
With the new look has also come a new focus on food. More than 85 percent of Applebee’s menu is new or has been upgraded.
The new ad campaign attempts to communicate Applebee’s’ “culinary credibility,” said Becky Johnson, Applebee’s senior vice president of culinary and marketing. And the new "we obssess" commercials appear to poke a little fun at recent foodie-focused ads by chains from McDonald’s to Red Lobster that highlight quality ingredients.
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Johnson, however, said they are not meant to poke fun at other brands. “We wanted to be able to say we take food seriously, but we didn’t want to do it in a serious way,” she said.
In one of Applebee’s new commercials for the new Florentine House Sirloin, for example, a chef walks through a sunny tomato field, launching into a passionate explanation of the lycopene content before he is stopped by a voice-over that urges him to stop boring viewers by “talking about tomatoes like they’re your children.”
The ad then cuts to glamour shots of the dish being prepared and notes the recommended starting price of the new summer menu items of $9.99, followed by the tagline, “See you tomorrow.”
The campaign has also incorporated elements of training, said Johnson. Front-of-the-house staff are now encouraged to watch dishes being prepared and to taste them all, so when guests ask, “they’ll be able to say they have a favorite,” said Johnson.
The “Flavors of Summer” menu includes fresh ingredients new to Applebee’s, such as artichoke hearts, grilled asparagus and fresh blueberries, as well as an emphasis on more in-house preparations.
New limited-time dishes include:
• Lemon Shrimp Fettuccine: The pasta dish includes seared shrimp, artichokes, tomatoes, sautéed spinach, basil and a roasted garlic cream sauce topped with Parmesan cheese and a gremolata of garlic, parsley and lemon zest, which is made in-house daily.
• Garlic Rosemary Chicken Pasta: For this dish, a “scratch-made-daily” bruschetta is cooked down to a light sauce, topped with a grilled chicken breast and artichokes, oven-roasted tomatoes, grilled asparagus and sautéed Portobello mushrooms. The dish is garnished with chopped fresh rosemary and fresh-squeezed lemon and butter.
• Seasonal Berry & Spinach Salad: This salad brings strawberries to the savory side of Applebee’s menu for the first time along with blueberries, an ingredient that's new to the chain. The berries top a spinach salad with a strawberry vinaigrette along with grilled chicken breast, blue cheese crumbles and honey-glazed pecans.
• Florentine House Sirloin: A seven-ounce grilled sirloin is topped with fresh spinach, sliced mushrooms, onions and bruschetta over red potatoes that have been steamed, fried and seasoned in house.
Because Applebee’s is a mostly franchised brand, franchisees set their own pricing. But the summer lineup starts at a recommended $9.99 for the Garlic Rosemary Chicken pasta, Johnson said.