SONIC PAIRS NEW TV SPOT WITH ITS REVAMPED STORES: NO. 5 HAMBURGER CHAIN'S GROWTH FUELED BY BOOST IN MARKETING

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Sonic Corp., operator of the drive-in fast-food chain known for its roller-skating car hops, today is slated to launch its first TV commercial touting its reimaged restaurants.

The spot, from Barkley Evergreen & Partners, Kansas City, Mo., breaks in Houston, where the 1,740-unit chain has converted 100 of its retro-style restaurants to a new, more neon-intensive look as part of an overall upgrade plan dubbed Sonic 2000.

As other markets get retrofitted Sonic stores, the spot will be expanded into those markets and air along with the chain's ongoing campaign. The company expects to have a total of 175 restaurants made over within six months.

GROWTH FUELED BY MARKETING

Sonic, a strong-performing restaurant company, operates in southern states. It has been on a growth path fueled in part by boosts in marketing spending the last few years.

According to Technomic, a restaurant consultancy, Sonic is the fifth-largest hamburger chain in the U.S.

Sonic's marketing budget has increased from $15 million in 1993 to $42 million for fiscal 1998, an increase of 34% over fiscal 1997, according to Sonic.

The budget increase "has allowed us to expand Sonic's prime media exposure and should result in even greater brand awareness with current and new customers," said Clifford Hudson, president-CEO, when announcing Sonic's second-quarter earnings late last month.

According to Competitive Media Reporting, Sonic spent $23 million in measured media in 1997, a 46% increase over the previous year.

The redesigned units have posted higher same-store sales than other existing restaurants, he noted. Same-store sales were up 8.1% for the quarter, compared with the same period a year ago.

BEACH BOYS TUNE

Like Sonic's current TV commercials, the new spot uses Beach Boys music -- "I Get Around" -- but begins with the theme from "2001: A Space Odyssey." The camera slowly pans up a pair of legs, revealing they belong to a Sonic carhop.

The tag is "New look. Same great food."

"Our objective is to allow everybody in that market, from their living room sofa and their living room chair, to drive by and see this new look at Sonic," said Scott Aylward, president of Barkley Evergreen.

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