After 64 years of hard-pack cones and sundaes, the chain rolls out its first soft-serve line today. An estimated $5 million ad campaign from Berry Brown, Dallas, will follow next week.
Causing the biggest stir is the Cyclone, a soft-serve offering where toppings and treats such as M&M's and Oreo cookies are whipped in. It's a direct challenge to McDonald's Corp.'s McFlurry, launched last year, and International Dairy Queen's more established Blizzard.
$2.5 BIL MARKET
Friendly's hopes to take a bite out of what it estimates is a $2.5 billion market for soft-serve.
"There's no question Dairy Queen -- and McDonald's getting in -- affected our decision, but we'd be there anyway," said John Cutter, Friendly's president.
Friendly's executives view it as the company's biggest dessert launch ever. Adding soft-serve to its myriad sundae offerings will allow Friendly's to boost its carryout business as well as attract more children.
Mr. Cutter said company research shows kids prefer soft-serve.
The new ad campaign for the Cyclone and soft-serve line falls within an overall repositioning by the chain. In recent years, ads have been product-oriented; now, the chain is still plugging products but is emphasizing its image as a neighborhood gathering place.
Two Cyclone commercials break May 10 on spot TV using the tagline "Simple pleasures," which the chain unveiled this spring in ads for its SuperMelt sandwich. A radio campaign targeting teen-agers follows in the summer.
GOOD MEMORIES, GOOD TIMES
The ads attempt to win benefits from the memories and good times customers have had at Friendly's.
"We're shifting to, and capitalizing on, the emotional strengths of the brand," said Scott Colwell, VP-marketing.
The company wants to capitalize on its reputation for hard-pack ice cream and position its soft-serve as "premium quality," hoping that will differentiate it not only from Dairy Queen and McDonald's but the unbranded soft-serve sold out of ice cream trucks and small stores.
'SULTAN OF SOFT-SERVE'
The new product has taken such a significant role in Friendly's operations that Director of Marketing Craig Gustafson has been nicknamed the "Sultan of Soft-Serve."
Friendly's, with 686 restaurants mostly in Northeast and mid-Atlantic states, lately has struggled financially. Last week, the company said its first-quarter revenue fell by 4% to $145.7 million compared with the same quarter last year.
Friendly's has 2.1% of the overall $31 billion family style restaurant market, according Technomic.
Mr. Cutter said the company plans to add new locations, both company-owned and franchises, in the next few years.
Expansion into Georgia and the Carolinas and throughout Florida, where it