CRACKER BARREL CUTS BACK ON TV ADS: OUTDOOR, RADIO TAKE BIGGER ROLES AT RESTAURANT CHAIN

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Cracker Barrel Old Country Store is pulling back on its 1996 move into TV, instead increasing radio advertising and dressing up its core marketing vehicle -- outdoor.

New outdoor boards, until now mostly featuring location directions from interstate highways, will evoke more of the restaurant's homey experience. "Stop and smell the biscuits" read new boards slated to go up before the end of February.

MORE THAN DIRECTIONS

"We're beginning to think of outdoor a little more as an advertising medium as opposed to directional signs," said Don Brashears, exec VP-account management for Cramer-Krasselt, Chicago, the chain's agency.

The agency is producing four to six new radio spots for the quarter.

The chain, with 322 locations in 33 states, features home-style meals in restaurants paired with retail shops selling items like calico trivets for coffee mugs, wooden rocking chairs and bird feeders. And it's a Wall Street favorite in the lackluster family-dining segment.

Cracker Barrel posted $1.1 billion in sales for the fiscal year ended Aug. 1. It spent $5.2 million in measured media in 1996, according to Competitive Media Reporting, but that figure represents only a small portion of marketing spending, according to Jim Fisher, VP-marketing. He declined to be more specific.

While the overall ad budget isn't expanding, the chain is trying to be more efficient with its spending and reach out to local markets.

TV will continue to be used as part of the overall marketing plan, but will not play a starring role.

"We will continue to use it opportunistically," said Mr. Fisher. "For example, we're using television to remind our guests during the holiday season that we have wonderful retail stores within our restaurants."

POINTS FOR PURCHASES

He said the company also recently completed the rollout of a frequent-customer program after two years of testing. Customers are awarded points for purchases, which lead to reward certificates redeemable in the stores.

"Like any database program, it gives us a much closer contact and understanding of our guests," Mr. Fisher said.

Within six months of launching the test in 13 stores, he said, the card had been used in 95% of the chain's restaurants. The program was developed by Frequency

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