Denny's Partners With Dog Whisperer to Connect With Hispanics

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Though many would be surprised to hear Denny's and Dog Whisperer Cesar Millan uttered in the same sentence, the two are teaming up for Denny's first Hispanic branded-content effort.

The move is part of the chain's initial branded-content effort aimed at Hispanics, and is its first work by new Hispanic agency Casanova Pendrill, which partnered with lead agency Gotham for the effort. Dubbed "Skillet Whisperer," the video is a spoof on National Geographic Wild's reality show "Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan." On the show, Mr. Millan works with owners of aggressive dogs and teaches them how to display their dominance to calm the animals.

In "Skillet Whisperer," which has English- and Spanish-language versions and was produced by comedy site Funny or Die, Denny's limited-time-offer Sizzling Skillets take the place of dogs, and Mr. Millan is called upon to tame skillets that are described in a voice-over as "too aggressive to enjoy." The Spanish version is on YouTube and the English one is on Funny or Die; both will be promoted through a social-media push on Denny's and Mr. Millan's Facebook and Twitter pages.

Denny's CMO Frances Allen said the campaign was intended to connect with Hispanics, Denny's fastest-growing customer base. "We thought it was time to engage a little more with [the Hispanic] audience," said Ms. Allen. "This year we'll be making a concerted push." The Hispanic campaign is part of Denny's ongoing "America's Diner Is Always Open" platform, introduced in January 2011. From January through October 2011, Denny's spent $55.2 million in measured media; the chain spent about $71 million in 2010.

Bringing in Mr. Millan to do a spoof on the Dog Whisperer was the idea of Casanova Pendrill, which won Denny's Hispanic account in September. In addition to seeking someone unexpected for the Denny's brand, "we were looking for someone energetic and who would connect with English-speaking Latinos but also the Spanish-preferred Latinos," said Ingrid Otero-Smart, the agency's president-CEO. "He has a really great connection with our target."

The two versions have separate casts because "we wanted to make sure it was authentic," Ms. Allen said. Mr. Millan's 13-year-old son is featured in the Spanish-language version.

Mr. Millan has done other sponsorships, including deals with Swiffer and Best Western, but this is his first restaurant sponsorship. Part of the appeal of this project was that Denny's is a brand everyone recognizes, it ties in naturally with family and the script was humorous, he said. "People are already familiar with Denny's," he said. "My goal for this joke, in a way, is to create communication and to create engagement."

Also part of "America's Diner Is Always Open" was Denny's first foray into branded-content territory, Always Open, a talk show that ran on IAC's College Humor last year. Aimed at millennials, the show was written and produced by DumbDumb, a company founded by actors Jason Bateman and Will Arnett with help from Interpublic's Gotham.

The current push is Denny's first work with Funny or Die on branded content. Chris Bruss, head of branded entertainment at Funny or Die, said that the video strikes a balance between content and advertising. It also isn't too product-heavy or trying to mask the branding altogether.

"What is strong about this video is that the whole idea is based around the world of Denny's," Mr. Bruss said. "It takes place in a Denny's, and it's about a Denny's product. There's no pulling the wool over the audience's eyes."

Ms. Allen said that "branded content has done well for Denny's. Our job is to entertain [consumers] in a way that's relevant for the brand. ... It's important that we find new and interesting ways to connect."

There are no immediate plans to make the spots into a series, but Mr. Millan said he'd be interested in the opportunity -- as long as it's something that carries on with new content so that "people don't get bored."

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