Denny's Trots Out Another Freebie

Chain Asks Customers to Bring in a Friend for Breakfast

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- If it worked once, why not again?

That seems to be the thinking behind another promotional stunt from Denny's. The fast-casual restaurant is asking its faithful to bring a friend who could use a free meal, positioning the freebie as a "random act of kindness" it "hopes will spread across the country." Friends loyal enough to bring a friend April 8 between 6 a.m. and 2 p.m. can score a free Grand Slamwich for their pals when they spring for a Grand Slam.

Denny's plans to drum up interest with a TV spot, breaking tomorrow, from agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. It will also have "prime placement" during next Monday's NCAA basketball championship. The chain is taking the opportunity to introduce the Grand Slamwich, a grilled sandwich made with potato bread, scrambled eggs, shaved ham, hash browns, bacon, mayo, American cheese and a "maple-spice" spread, for $4.99. Denny's original Grand Slam is eggs, pancakes bacon and sausage.

The chain is building on a February giveaway that drew 2 million people, and appeared to increase buzz for Denny's, according to Brand Index. Denny's drew attention to that promotion with its first Super Bowl ad . These stepped-up marketing efforts followed the chain's decision to move its creative business to Goodby last December, from Publicis Mid America, Dallas.

According to TNS Media Intelligence, Denny's spent about $71 million in measured media during 2008. That's up about 13% from an $63 million during 2007. The figures do not include internet or national spot-radio ad spending.

In an interview with Ad Age following the giveaway, Denny's chief marketer, Mark Chmeil, said the chain's hot line had been nearly overwhelmed with grateful consumers. "We didn't realize how much people would appreciate it," he said. Mr. Chmiel added that Denny's used the opportunity to show consumers how much the restaurants had changed since their last visit: They now have a new late night menu and breakfast to go.

"Denny's was absolutely blown away by the tens of thousands of e-mails and phone calls we received from customers thanking us for our generosity at a time when stories of corporate greed scream from the headlines. The stories we heard made us literally cry ... they were so moving," Denny's CEO Nelson Marchioli said in a press release.

Such giveaways seem to be part of a growing body of marketing that fills a consumer need, as opposed to efforts that entertain or are tied to a specific cause. KFC, for instance, announced plans last week to fill potholes in four U.S. cities. After starting in the company's hometown of Louisville, Ky., up to three more cities will be selected at random.

"This marketing effort fosters trial of our brand new Grand Slam product, the Grand Slamwich, and it once again helps people who could use some good news right now," Mr. Marchioli said. "We want to continue to connect with today's consumers who we know have lots of choices and limited dollars ... we want there to always be a reason to visit Denny's."

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