Chili's Parts Ways with Digitas a Year After Handing it Digital AOR Duties

Most Digital Elements Being Handled In-House, No Search for Replacement Underway

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Casual-dining chain Chili's has parted ways with Digitas, its digital agency of record, Ad Age has learned. The move comes less than a year after Chili's handed the Publicis Groupe agency the account following a review. It included digital-media planning and buying, customer-relationship marketing, social media, mobile, display, search marketing, website design, and analytics and measurement.

Interpublic's Hill Holliday, which handles broadcast and other creative, as well as media planning and buying, will not be affected. Hill Holliday had been handling display and search buying and planning, but it lost that business to Digitas.

Digitas did not respond to requests for comment. Chili's confirmed the change. A spokeswoman said that though the company is "still in the evaluating stages," it doesn't plan to conduct a review for a replacement. In a statement, the spokeswoman said: "Chili's is continuing to promote initiatives in the brand's digital spaces, including traditional and mobile online ordering, engaging and interacting with more than 1.6 million fans on Facebook and 55,000-plus Twitter followers, as well as marketing through the email database. ... All of these initiatives are handled in-house. While the brand will continue to look at elements to align with its growing digital and mobile strategies, Chili's is not looking to conduct a review for another digital AOR."

Dallas-based Brinker International, parent company of Chili's and Maggiano's Little Italy, spends most of its advertising dollars on Chili's. It spent $125.1 million on measured media last year, basically the same as in 2010, according to Kantar.

In its fiscal second quarter, which ended in December, Chili's same-store sales rose 1.4% and customer traffic was up 1.1% -- the third straight quarterly increase for both sales and traffic, according to Brinker. Chili's system-wide sales fell 4.8% in 2010, while the number of units was down 0.4%, according to Technomic.

In December, Digitas was named the primary agency for the Sprint brand, managing brand strategy, advertising, digital, offline media, digital buying and analytics, with creative work coming from Publicis sibling Leo Burnett. The agency had picked up Dunkin' Donuts loyalty marketing account in November, and creative and media duties for Equifax's consumer business in August.

Contributing: Kunur Patel, Rupal Parekh

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