Advertiser: Denny's Restaurants
Agency: Chisholm-Mingo Group, New York
Ad Review rating: 1 1/2 stars
Ordinarily, you'd never give this advertising a second thought. It's just your basic restaurant table full of extremely attractive people having absolutely the time of their lives ordering french toast.
In one spot it's a very happy architect. In another its a stunning Century 21 agent yukking it up with her equally beautiful and even more well-heeled clients. In a third it's a gorgeous fashion designer with an ecstatic grin. Yep, these folks are almost frighteningly delighted, but you'd hardly notice if they all weren't black, and the venue weren't Denny's.
Denny's. Which was successfully sued for ignoring black clientele while giving white customers their full attention. Now three spots from Chisholm-Mingo Group, New York, are trying to heal the racial wounds and bring blacks back into the fold.
"You work hard for your money," the jingle jings, "so you want to start your day, with a real delicious breakfast to get you on your way."
Whereupon, successively, the architect, the real estate agent and the designer march giddily inside to be greeted with a cheerful, "Hi, welcome back to Denny's."
It's an interesting--and disturbing--overture. For an act of racial contrition, you can't help but notice the three spots are startlingly uninclusive.
Is there any particular reason that 100% of the people Denny's is welcoming back are particularly accomplished, particularly fashionable, particularly well-heeled ideals of aristocratic black beauty? Lots of Armani jackets and "good" hair, but not a work shirt, or Afro, in the lot.
Now, of course, no matter how these ads were constructed, they were destined to be second-guessed. Casting issues that normally would be subject only to the normal level of racial and gender bean counting in this campaign scream with significance. See how the architect is giving instructions to a white subordinate? See how a black hostess welcomes diners to the restaurant?
What does it mean? Well, who knows, because the clucking, skeptical viewer can infer anything. It's all subject to the toxic tarot of racial politics.
Yet this parade of the Afro-affluent begs for just that, suggesting as it does a nasty sort of infraracial elitism. It's as if to say, "Bryant Gumbel and Halle Berry, we miss you. But LeTrice Doe, the grocery cashier with the corn rows and the three noisy kids, girl, don't hurry back."
Think back to the original scandal: Secret Service agents getting pointedly slow service.
Secret Service agents! Dressed in suits and ties! And still treated like second-class citizens! That was the buzz: widespread indignation that it doesn't matter how accomplished you are; if you are black in America, you still go to the back of the bus.
Which, of course, was a twisted response, because accomplishment should have nothing to do with it. Why did it matter that these were Secret Service agents being discriminated against? Would it have been tolerable if they had been garbage men in overalls, or unkempt urban youths in basketball clothes? Them you may treat shabbily?
Of course not. How unfortunate, then, that among both whites and blacks the dialogue on the Denny's scandal has always been colored not only by race but also by class.
And how ironic that the remedial advertising, from a black agency brought in for damage control, is encouraging the very same thing.
Copyright May 1997, Crain Communications Inc.