Red Lobster shifts creative to boost 'emotion quotient'

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Red Lobster is ditching its two-year-old marketing theme after canning spokesman Chef Ned.

The change, a year after Mark McCallum's July 2001 arrival as exec VP-marketing, comes even though its "Go Overboard" campaign scored among the chain's highest in unaided awareness. Ken Mills, Red Lobster's VP-marketing, said the ads didn't build the brand and that consumers couldn't agree on what the brand represented.

"As successful as it may have been, the `Go Overboard' work didn't solidify a single core idea to wrap around the brand," said Mr. Mills. "None of our emotional quotient was coming from the sea. [It] was coming from humor." He added, "If Red Lobster is seen as being built on advertising that is fun but predicated on a punch line, I can't go to my menu developer and say, `Create a dish behind that.' I can't go to my facilities group and ask them to design a restaurant around that."

While the chain's continue to set pace for the category-its same-store sales jumped 13% in July, as compared to the casual-dining industry's 3% rise that month-Red Lobster wants to improve its standing as an employer and to improve parent Darden Restaurants' share price, which dropped to just under $26 after peaking at $29.78 in March.

focus groups

Red Lobster and its advertising agency, Havas's Euro RSCG Tatham Partners, Chicago, are conducting focus groups around the country to better understand what brand attributes best articulate the brand essence. New creative will ramp up lush, seaside imagery as the chain attempts to "connect the Red Lobster brand to the emotions people feel when they're near or at the sea," Mr. Mills said.

Meanwhile, a roughly $10 million campaign touting 30 shrimp for $9.99 breaks Sept. 8 sans the "Go Overboard" theme. One spot is set in a seaside restaurant, presumably a remodeled Red Lobster, where a man surprises his dinner partner with the 30-shrimp dish to commemorate her 30th birthday. "But honey, I'm 29," she said with a grimace. He quickly takes one of her shrimp and flashes a conciliatory smile (AdAge.com QwikFIND aan93a). The promotion runs through the end of October.

While most of Red Lobster's $70 million media budget centers on advertising, last year it began a sponsorship deal with "Offshore Adventures," a deep-sea-fishing show on the Outdoor Life Network. The show, which has now been picked up by ESPN 2, combines hard-core deep-sea fishing with lifestyle and cooking segments called The Gourmet Galley. "We're trying to make Red Lobster a more relevant and contemporary part of pop culture," Mr. Mills said.

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