Fast-Casual Chain Smashburger Hires Mono as It Increases Marketing, Grows Footprint

Eight-Year-Old Chain Had U.S. Systemwide Sales Growth of 25%

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Growing fast-casual burger chain Smashburger has named MDC Partners' Mono its new creative agency as the brand seeks to expand.

The Denver-based chain initially invited 12 agencies to a review, though Mono was chosen "all-in approach that combined strategic insights with their ability to translate those insights into outstanding creative," according to a statement. The company previously worked with Denver-based agency Cactus.

The move comes as the chain is looking to boost its marketing, though it declined to provide more detail. "With our continued growth of adding new restaurants at about 25% annually, we are also looking to increase our marketing efforts," said Josh Kern, chief marketing officer in an email to Ad Age. "With Mono we are excited about an innovative approach to marketing and new ways to reach customers."

Mono's work will launch this month and will include print, radio, out-of-home and experiential. Smashburger in the past hasn't invested in TV and there are no immediate plans to create a TV spot.

The move also comes as Smashburger will seek to differentiate itself from a slew of other smaller burger chains. Though the category is dominated by McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King, dozens of fast-casual burger chains like Five Guys and Shake Shack, which recently went public, have been positioning themselves as a higher quality than traditional fast-food burgers.

Like other burgeoning fast-casual burger chains, the brand has historically been a small ad spender. In 2013, it only spent $1.8 million on U.S.measured media, according to Kantar Media, but in 2014, that figure jumped to $3.8 million.

Smashburger is the 20th largest burger chain in the U.S., according to Technomic. It had estimated systemwide sales of $268.1 million in the U.S., up nearly 25% from the prior year. At the end of 2014 it had an estimated 280 units in the U.S., a 16.7% increase from the unit count in 2013. In total, the company, founded in 2007, has more than 310 locations in 34 states and seven countries.

"We're thrilled to join forces with Smashburger, an exciting brand with both a solid understanding of who they are and also huge ambitions to increase brand awareness and engagement," said Jim Scott, co-founder and managing partner at Mono. "At Mono, we are always eager to team up with brands looking to accelerate growth and disrupt their category in new ways, which is why we feel this is a perfect match. It's our goal to utilize simple and powerful ideas to catapult the brand to new heights."

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