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Olive Garden launches digital scavenger hunt

Brand to give away 10 Pasta Passes in online contest

Olive Garden is extending its popular Annual Pasta Pass promotion into September this year by offering a digital scavenger hunt across social-media platforms.

Building anticipation with a countdown clock on a microsite earlier this week, the Italian division of Orlando, Fla.-based Darden Restaurants Inc. launched the scavenger hunt at midday Wednesday with puzzles that provided clues to win 10 of the $300 Annual Pasta Passes, which debuted in August this year.

Olive Garden

Olive Garden's countdown clock

Olive Garden sold 1,000 Annual Pasta Passes, which allow holders to access 52 weeks of unlimited servings of pasta meals. The Annual Pasta Pass was an expansion of its more-limited $100 Never Ending Pasta Pass promotion, which began in 2014 and drew tens of thousands of online buyers within minutes.

Each of the 10 riddles, puzzles and ciphers in this week’s giveaway provided clues to “the name of a Twitter profile, an Instagram handle or a Facebook group,” Olive Garden said.

Olive Garden

Two of the puzzle questions that lead to the Annual Pasta Pass giveaway

“If you’re the first person to solve that puzzle and send a direct message to that profile or post in the Facebook group with the secret phrase ‘Pasta Pass Please,’ you’re the winner,” the rules stated. 

Olive Garden was promoting the giveaway on its own social channels, such as Twitter, as well.

The company said it would do its best to provide live updates as clues were solved and passes were claimed. 

Olive Garden has found success in marketing on digital platforms that is reflected in the chain’s financial performance. For the fourth quarter, the brand posted an increase in total sales of 4 percent and same-store sales were up by 2.4 percent.

Darden CEO Gene Lee said in a fourth-quarter earnings call June 21 that the brand was deploying “marketing that reaches the right target at the right time on the right channel with the right message.”

The September online puzzle contest expands Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Pass marketing platform. 

In addition to selling 1,000 of the new Annual Pasta Passes at $300 in August, the brand said it sold 23,000 Never Ending Pasta Passes, which for $100 each offer eight weeks of unlimited access to the Never Ending Pasta Bowl promotion. Last year, Olive Garden sold 22,000 of those. 

As of June 21, Darden had 856 Olive Garden restaurants among its total of 1,746 casual-dining units.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

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