CHURCHS CHICKEN CAMPAIGN PUTS FOOD AT CENTER STAGE: WAYNE BRADY TO 'DIRECT' PRODUCT IN COMIC PITCH

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Churchs Chicken has long relied on humor to lure customers into its fast-food restaurants. Now it's giving food equal billing.

The nation's second-largest chicken chain will break a $9 million campaign April 26 in 45 spot markets.

The effort, from Austin Kelley Advertising, Atlanta, includes four 30-second TV commercials starring comedian Wayne Brady.

Mr. Brady will join Randy McPherson, the actor in the chain's current spots, as part of a movie-making duo. The two will "direct" menu items as if the chicken or biscuits were major movie stars in need of coddling.

'TIME TO SHOWCASE THE FOOD'

"It's time to showcase the food," said Hala Moddelmog, president of the chain. "Our loyal customer always needs to know Churchs has a great product for a great price."

Ads continue the long-running tagline, "Gotta love it."

The new work with Mr. Brady continues the chain's use of African-American comedians. A hugely popular former campaign starred Luanda Page, who played Aunt Esther on the TV series "Sanford & Son."

"It is very important for us to have an African-American in our spots whom viewers can identify with," Ms. Moddelmog said.

Churchs has a large number of its 1,100 U.S. outlets in urban areas.

Last week, Churchs launched three :10s in spot markets that manage to pack in a price message, a product message, signature humor and the chain's logo and theme line without seeming like snipped-down :30s.

One shows Mr. McPherson with his arm draped around a beehive, as he thanks the bees for honey butter biscuits, a signature Churchs' product. The spot ends with a food shot of a 10-piece chicken dinner of legs and thighs for $6.99.

STRETCHING THE BUDGET

These spots allow Churchs to stretch its comparatively tiny media budget, said Sue Morgan, VP-marketing.

KFC, for instance, the nation's largest chicken chain, spent $146 million on measured media through the first 11 months of 1998, compared with $7.6 million spent by Churchs, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

"We really felt we needed to have more impactful :10s. A harder, better, stronger selling of Churchs deal message," she said.

The new commercials coming in April also will have 10-second versions, she said, primarily using them in new TV markets for the chain.

Separately, Churchs is looking at how it might add cinnamon buns from sibling chain Cinnabon, acquired by parent AFC Enterprises last fall.

Ms. Moddelmog said the chain is tinkering with a smaller version of the hefty

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