The unusual move of giving one agency two burger brands is an attempt to bring spending efficiencies to both chains, which each operate just under 500 restaurants in separate markets, said Jay Gillespie, CEO for both. Rally's base is primarily the Midwest; Checkers is concentrated in the Southeast.
Combined media spending for the next 12 months will be about $13 million, said Mr. Gillespie, who noted about $2 million is being saved by consolidating and that will be plowed back into marketing.
The consolidation marks a loss for M&C Saatchi, New York, which was awarded the creative on Rally's last November, and Western International Media, West Hollywood, Calif., which had buying. Crispin Porter has had the entire Checkers account for about a year.
Mr. Gillespie said chain executives visited the incumbent agencies and three other undisclosed shops this summer for informal pitches to evaluate creative possibilities as well as corporate cultures. He said he wanted the agency that would best mesh with the people-oriented culture of Rally's and Checkers.
Also, Rally's has cut its senior VP-marketing post, giving those duties to Bob Purple, senior VP-marketing for Checkers. Anthony Lavely, senior VP-marketing at Rally's since September, has left the company.
The first new work for Checkers breaks Sept. 7, and that creative will be retooled for Rally's use later in the month.
The TV and radio campaign introduces "Speakerman," a slightly irreverent, respect-seeking character designed to bring the chain's drive-through speaker to life.
The campaign retains the current Checker's slogan: "Fresh. Because we just made it," which will also be used by Rally's.
The Checkers TV campaign, to run through October, touts a barbecue bacon cheeseburger for 99 cents. The Rally's version will feature a value meal.
Mr. Purple said the slogan, spotlighting made-to-order products, is striking a chord with consumers.
"It gives us brand positioning and a consumer benefit they can easily get their arms and teeth around," he said.
Mr. Purple said there is little concern consumers will be confused, since each brand will retain its logo and signature products.
Both chains have struggled amid strong competition from giants such as McDonald's Corp. and Burger King Corp. Efforts to merge Checkers and Rally's were called off last year, although the two share most back-office operations.
CKE Restaurants, parent of the Carl's Jr. and Hardee's chains, is a large shareholder in Rally's, which in turn owns 27% of Checkers.
After three years of declines, Checkers has posted two quarters of same-store sales increases. For the second quarter ended June 15, same-store sales rose 4.6%. The company had a net loss of $207,000 compared with a net loss of $1.5 million for the same period in 1997. Same-store sales at Rally's dipped 5.2% for the second quarter, with a net loss of $1.6 million compared to net income of $92,000 for the year-ago quarter.
Crispin Porter President Jeff Hicks said the win of the Rally's media business is particularly sweet for the agency, which has been working to boost its fledgling media department.