Donatos shines spotlight on founder

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Donatos Pizza, the regional chain scooped up by McDonald's last summer, will give founder Jim Grote a larger role in its advertising.

The new ads, from longtime agency Haunty Group, Columbus, Ohio, use more humor than previous campaigns, and spotlight Mr. Grote, a man with a friendly, folksy demeanor reminiscent of Wendy's International founder Dave Thomas.

"You think of how many companies out there look for a real-life, credible spokesperson, and we've got it," said VP-Marketing Tom Santor. "We try to personalize the communication of what we're all about with Jim, who still runs the business on a day-to-day basis" as executive chairman.

Both moves are tweaks, rather than major strategy changes, but come as the 148-unit chain gears up for significant expansion. Some 50 new units are slated for 2000, double the typical 25-unit annual growth of pre-golden arches ownership. The chain, with sales of $121 million in 1998, has the potential for several thousand more outlets, fueled by the power of McDonald's Corp.'s global development machine.

RIMLESS PIZZA

Started in 1963, Donatos is known for its rimless Edge to Edge pizza. While many chains fight price wars in the competitive $22.5 billion U.S. pizza business, Donatos sticks to a message touting taste, quality and quantity. For the past several months, the chain has played up the fact its pies don't have that pesky crust typical of other chains.

The first new commercial breaks Jan. 1 in spot markets, including Columbus, Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio; Lexington, Ky.; and Grand Rapids, Mich. It runs through March 10. About five more :30s will follow in 2000 for eight-week flights.

The first spot begins with an eye examination that puts Donatos' topping-laden pizza in sharp focus. In the voice-over, an optometrist instructs his female patient to say which image is sharper, a pizza with tiny nuggets of sausage surrounded by a fat dough ring, or one covered with juicy slices of pepperoni. Then she must choose between the same anemic pie and another one topped high and wide with vegetables.

"Your vision is 100%. That's because Donatos is 100% pizza," the doctor says. Enter Mr. Grote in a separate scene, trying to figure out what to do with a leftover pizza crust from a competitor. First he tries to shoot a basketball through it, then he tries to use it as a target for a game of lawn darts. The spot ends with Donatos tagline, "Donatos. 100% pizza. 100% taste."

"It graphically conveys the message you get 14 inches of toppings and not a couple of inches of dough," said Mr. Santor.

GRAPHIC BUT NOT UGLY

The commercial breaks at a time of high-profile sniping in federal court over competitive ads between industry leader Pizza Hut and No. 4-ranked Papa John's International.

"We're trying to make this as graphic as possible without getting ugly," said Jack Haunty, agency president-creative director. "We don't like to slam the competition unless we do it in this cute way."

Mr. Santor said the McDonald's takeover won't have an immediate impact on marketing or agency relationships. Haunty Agency has handled the creative portion of the chain's estimated $4.5 million account for a dozen years. SBC Advertising, Westerville, Ohio, handles media planning and buying.

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