Olive Garden and Don Francisco Go to Tuscany

Restaurant Chain Enlists 'Sabado Gigante' Host to Get U.S. Hispanics to Eat More Italian Food

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- To help make Italian cuisine appealing to U.S. Hispanics, Olive Garden is sending Don Francisco, the legendary host of Univision variety show "Sabado Gigante," on a trip to Italy and the kitchens where the U.S. restaurant chain's chefs train.

Don Francisco (right) shoots a segment at Olive Garden's Culinary Institute in Tuscany.
Don Francisco (right) shoots a segment at Olive Garden's Culinary Institute in Tuscany.
Don Francisco will visit Olive Garden's Culinary Institute in Tuscany in a segment airing this Saturday night on "Sabado Gigante." He accompanies Margarita Ibarra, the young chef who won Olive Garden's "Cocinando un Sueño" ("Cooking a Dream") contest. As part of this week's popular "Camara Viajera" ("Travelling Camera") feature, Don Francisco and Ms. Ibarra visit a local farmers' market together, and cook with Olive Garden's Chef Paolo at the company's Culinary Institute, located about two hours outside Florence.

"Don Francisco has such a lively personality and he's a warm host," said Stephanie Gutierrez, director for brand marketing at Olive Garden. "That warmth resonates with Olive Garden."

For marketers, it can be challenging to do Spanish-language branded entertainment well because the biggest network, Univision, imports many of its highest-rated shows from Grupo Televisa in Mexico.

"A lot of [Univision] programming is from Televisa and comes to us canned," said Joe Zubi, chief operating officer of Zubi Advertising, Olive Garden's Hispanic agency. "To get shows where we can get written into the script is an important part of branded content strategy."

The effort kicked off with a contest, in which aspiring chefs submitted their own Spanish-language videos to Univision.com, explaining why they should win Olive Garden's $10,000 culinary scholarship, Ms. Gutierrez said. Six finalists were chosen, and Univision.com users voted to pick the winner. The social-media-savvy Ms. Ibarra campaigned skillfully for herself on Facebook.

"It started as introducing an up-and-coming chef and grew from there," Mr. Zubi said. "Olive Garden said we can take the chef to Tuscany, then Univision talked to Don Francisco and then Don thought it would be great to go to Italy for a few days."

Next week, Ms. Ibarra will appear on Univision's morning show, "Despierta America," and do a cooking demonstration of the Bolognese sauce she learned to make in Italy.

Other marketers and 'Sabado Gigante'
Marketers, including Ford Motor Co. with which Don Francisco did a Detroit segment a few months ago, have been integrated into the "Camara Viajera" segment on "Sabado Gigante" before.

"Don Francisco toured one of the plants and met with Marketing VP Jim Farley and got a peek at the design center at some of the things Ford is working on," Mr. Zubi said.

Olive Garden is a good example of marketers growing their efforts in the U.S. Hispanic market. This is only the second year the restaurant chain has been on national Spanish-language TV, Mr. Zubi said.

They're also making sure the restaurants are ready. Marketers sometimes up their Spanish-language advertising but don't prepare for increased business from Spanish-speaking customers. All 600 restaurants now have menus in Spanish, and waitstaff and managers have been briefed, sometimes by Zubi staffers, to prepare them for possible incremental business from Spanish-speaking Hispanics. Olive Garden already has a Spanish-language website.

Olive Garden does a contest for young chefs in the general market, too, but it's a sweepstakes with a random drawing rather than a merit-based contest like the new Hispanic promotion.

Ms. Gutierrez is already thinking about repeating the Hispanic contest next year with Zubi and another Univision property. "We're looking at 'Don Francisco Presenta,'" she said, referring to another weekly program hosted by Don Francisco.

She added that contest winner Ms. Ibarra has already been hired as a chef at an Olive Garden in Houston.

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