SONIC ADS EMPHASIZE FAST-SERVICE PLEDGE: MOVE ALSO AIMS TO BOOST TRAFFIC DURING DINNER FOR BURGER CHAIN

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Hoping to rise above the burger price-war fray, Sonic Drive-Ins on March 1 kicked off a monthlong ad campaign promising customers a made-to-order meal delivered in 5 minutes or less.

The spot TV effort from Barkley & Evergreen, Kansas City, Mo., continues the fast-service theme that Sonic has been using since January, in which creative centers on the 1970s disco hit, "The Hustle." That tack is part of a 21/2-year-old emphasis on quality and service. The chain, located primarily in the Southeast, also is seeking to boost its off-premise dinner business.

5 MINUTES OR FREE

The new promotional offer guarantees orders will be filled within 5 minutes or customers get a coupon for a free sandwich.

"We do not employ a deep-discounting strategy nor do we intend to," said Pattye Moore, exec VP-marketing and brand development. "For some of our competitors, selling burgers has become a commodity focus. That's not where we want to be, and it's not where we think customers are responding."

Ms. Moore's comments came in the wake of reports that No. 1 burger chain McDonald's Corp. was ramping up for its most extensive price-promotion effort to date.

A series of brand audits and customer segmentation studies over the past three years has directed Sonic toward emphasizing its menu variety, food quality and carhop service.

Sonic's positioning has served the chain well. For fiscal 1996, ended Aug. 31, sales at its 1,600-plus units were up 22%, topping $1 billion, with same-store sales growing 9.3%.

An immediate goal for Sonic is to build its off-premise dinner business.

"Dinner in general has forever been a problem in the fast-food industry," said Scott Aylward, president-chief operating officer of Barkley & Evergreen.

Future campaigns will tout Sonic's dinner-friendly menu variety.

"Our menu is not dependent on hand-held sandwiches. We have chicken finger dinners, steak finger dinners-a lot of menu variety that our competitors just don't have," Ms. Moore said.

Sonic spent $12.1 million on advertising in the first nine months of 1996, up

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