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Facing competitors wielding much bigger ad budgets, Checkers Drive-In Restaurants is launching a brand-building campaign that focuses on freshness and taste.

"Customers love our products, but nobody knows who we are," said Donald Young III, senior director of marketing for the 480-unit chain, which has most of its restaurants in the Southeast.

Checkers features made-to-order burgers sold from units that have two drive-through windows and no seating.

"Customers have told us that fresh, made to order is what they like," Mr. Young said. But because customers buy their burgers from the drive-through, they don't see their sandwiches being prepared and may not know they're made to order, he said.


"Checkers. You order it, we make it" is the tagline of the campaign, the first from the chain's new agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Miami. Crispin won the account last summer; Mendelsohn/Zien, Los Angeles, previously handled creative and Western International Media had media buying.

With $15 million in its marketing coffers this year, Mr. Young said Checkers needs to get the most out of its spending if the chain is to succeed at luring burger lovers away from McDonald's and Burger King. According to Competitive Media Reporting, McDonald's spent $600 million on advertising while Burger King spent $362 million last year.

All marketing materials will reinforce the fresh burger message, Mr. Young said.

Crispin President Jeff Hicks said product, rather than price, is in the spotlight in the humorous campaign that breaks Oct. 6.

"Our niche will be better-tasting burgers-that's what we're all about," Mr. Hicks said, adding that a price message is no longer enough to hang a campaign on. "Now everybody has to be competitively priced," he said.


The campaign includes a mix of spot and cable TV, plus print and outdoor advertising. Poking fun at conventional advertising, the ads tout the tailor-made aspect of Checkers burgers by showing customers designing their own commercials. In one scenario, a customer selects a Western bar fight theme.

Checkers' campaign is targeted to the so-called heavy fast-food user, mostly young men.

"I think everybody is my customer. But with [less than] 500 restaurants, we don't have the opportunity to speak to every segment," Mr. Young said. "The biggest portion of the market that I can most effectively talk to is the 18-to-34-year-old male."

No kids meals or breakfast promotions are coming anytime soon, he added.

After abandoning a test of a Mexican concept last year, Checkers' primary focus now is on its core burger business, Mr. Young said. However, the company is about to open its first dining area in a restaurant, to test whether the concept can be expanded to appeal to customers who may want to linger over their burgers.


Checkers, founded 11 years ago, was in the news last week following the announcement that Rally's Hamburgers planned to buy shares of Checkers owned by CKE Restaurants, operator of the strong-performing Carl's Jr. chain and new owner of the ailing Hardee's Food Systems. CKE Chairman William Foley II also

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