New Marketing Campaigns Target New Customer Bases

While some restaurant companies have gained attention due to unplanned public relations flaps in recent weeks—Chick-fil-A and Burger King, to name two—a few are turning heads and making headlines for good reasons with their strategic marketing efforts.

Take, for example, Chili’s. The Dallas-based chain with more than 1,500 restaurants recently took to the web to get people in the door. Through a series of humorous videos, Chili’s aims to get people out of their offices and into its restaurants to try the Lunch Combos—a salad or soup plus a sandwich for $6, $7 or $8.

Available for easy viewing (especially while at work—with headphones, of course) at and promoted on Twitter with the hashtag #BagtheBagLunch, the videos star a brown bag who discusses the downfalls of being in the office, from boring lunchtime meetings to the sometimes less-than-exciting (or good-smelling) food. Then, he encourages viewers to ditch him and instead head out to Chili’s for the Lunch Combos.

Viewers can customize the videos and send to their friends; by doing so, the sender receives a coupon for a free order of chips and salsa.

The marketing campaign is obviously focused on promoting lunch rather than a dinner or late-night crowd, where alcohol beverages are much more likely to be consumed. However, creating this interaction and entertainment all leads to brand loyalty, which is crucial to any restaurant company’s success.

According to a recent study by Chicago-based research and consulting firm Technomic Inc., Americans select chain restaurants for nearly seven out of every 10 restaurant visits. Plus, they’re incredibly loyal: 62% of people say they visit either “the same few places each time” or “a wide variety of familiar places,” while 36% say they visit “a mix of new and familiar places.”

With such a high number of people saying they prefer to visit familiar restaurants each time they dine out, it becomes increasingly critical to make sure you’re on their radar morning, noon and night (or, of course, whatever dayparts you serve). By growing a regular lunch crowd, you could see these dedicated patrons return with their families for dinner, co-workers for happy hour or friends for late-night eats and drinks.

Casual-dining chain The Greene Turtle hits on this idea perfectly with the launch of its latest media campaign to promote the 33-restaurant company’s repositioning. Its locations—in Maryland, Virginia and Delaware—have often been viewed as a traditional sports bar, but it wants to appeal to customers beyond that, aiming to draw in families for early evening gatherings and adults for the boisterous late-night action.

One recent advertisement for the Edgewater, Md.-headquartered Greene Turtle focuses on the family-friendly aspect of the restaurant/bar, showing parents bringing groups of children in after a game; the other focuses on the bar scene, with adults filling the bar in a more late-night scene. Both ads—the family-focused “Team” and the adult-centered “Compete”—as well as a new radio spot end with the chain’s tagline, “Feed your passion.”

“We often talk about the daytime Turtle and the nighttime Turtle,” David Melnick, vice president and director of account management of Siquis, the agency that produced the commercials, told Nation’s Restaurant News. “We wanted to have two different spots that capture those specific audiences.”

Legal Sea Foods, however, is taking its ad campaigns in a drastically different direction than other chains. In the wake of the religion-centered Chick-fil-A controversy, Legal Sea Foods is tackling the divisive topic—as well as many others—head on, with a series of provocative TV, print, radio and digital advertisements. It’s a risky move that may pay off—or may inspire backlash from its guests.

The famed Boston eatery, which now boasts more than 30 restaurants on the East Coast, admitted in a recent press release that the company is getting attention for what some call “over-the-top” ad campaigns. These include a print ad that plays on the Christian fish symbol. But inside the fish, the word “Legal” appears, with the ad’s copy reading, “It’s a religious experience.” Other print ads include paid obituaries of fictitious people, which will each report the individual would have lived longer if he or she had gone to Legal Sea Foods to eat more fish. (For example, “if the 88-year-old grandmother had eaten more seafood she may have lived long enough to answer the call when the sweepstakes company arrived at her doorstep,” according to a statement.)

The company is unafraid of confronting other provocative topics as well. In fact, Legal’s president and CEO Roger Berkowitz himself is the voice of eight radio commercials that “present his unabashed take on the appropriate response to those who fail to appreciate the need for eating fresh fish,” from telling a boyfriend where he fits in a ranking of past lovers to encouraging mothers-in-law to walk off a pier.

It’s an abrasive approach not often used in the full-service restaurant world. And it’s risky; it could work magically or it could backfire completely. But Legal Sea Foods knows its customers—or its ideal customers—and is targeting that audience.

The same goes for Chili’s and The Greene Turtle, two brands that are attempting to reach new crowds and turn them into repeat customers—the key to any successful business, of course. And thanks to these new creative tactics, it just might pay off.

But what do you think? Have you seen any full-service chains with marketing strategies that are especially innovative or successful? And do you think the three highlighted here will soar or sink? Sound off below.


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