Eager to get diners back into its restaurants, Chili's new campaign touches on everything from the chain's "moment of self-actualization" about its previously bloated menu to "ridic" ribs, all within short, freshened up takes on that famous jingle.
As the ads say, "Chili's is back, baby back, baby back."
The effort, from O'Keefe Reinhard and Paul, began this week. And while it's the small agency's first time working with Chili's, its 15-second spots sound a bit familiar.
The push comes after Steve Provost joined the Brinker International chain as chief marketing and innovation officer in March following his tenure as president of Brinker's smaller Maggiano's chain.
"Like the rest of casual dining, we're up against the wall right now and we need to reverse trends," Provost says of Chili's. Its U.S. comparable sales fell 2 percent in the year through June 28, following a decline of 2.2 percent the year prior.
Last month, Chili's cut 40 percent of the items on its often confusing menu and added more meat to its burgers, ribs and fajitas. While some people have ranted online about the changes, others seem pleased. "We haven't even gone on air and we're already encouraged by the initial guest results," Provost said, declining to divulge specific sales or traffic patterns.
Now he's ramping up marketing, starting with a heavy dose of TV and digital video, which will get more emphasis as the campaign progresses.
Chili's also has one more idea: a discount to draw in value-conscious diners. It's rolling back the price of its most popular burger, the Oldtimer with cheese, to $6.99 with a side of fries, a roughly $2 reduction. The plan is to keep the price down at least into early 2018 and see how it goes, Provost said.
Back Baby Back
Chili's "Baby Back" jingle promoting ribs debuted in 1986. While even the chain can't share the original ad, it's a song that has been heard in various versions on and off for years, including an 'N Sync spin in 2002, a 2009 campaign promoting a new version of the ribs and pop culture shout-outs including renditions in "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me" and "The Office." Chili's last used the catchy tune in 2015 when musicians and diners recreated the tune in honor of the chain's 40th anniversary.
Soon after he joined Chili's, Provost asked a handful of agencies to "just come up with advertising that doesn't look like, feel like, sound like or smell like anything else in the casual dining category," he said.
O'Keefe, the smallest of three finalists in the project pitch, emerged as the winner. The Chicago-based shop had the food marketing credentials Provost was looking for, including the work that two of its founders, Tom O'Keefe and Matt Reinhard, did convincing Taco Bell patrons to "Think Outside the Bun," a tagline Provost calls one of the best ever in the industry.
Chili's and Provost brought "a very good articulation of the brand voice, or the want for a brand voice, that felt authentic to Chili's," said O'Keefe, the agency's CEO.
When people think of Chili's, they still often think of that jingle. The agency has reworked the beat and lyrics, with 15-second graphic- and food-close-up spots touching on Chili's being about more than ribs, the menu slimdown, and on the meatier burgers, ribs, and fajitas.
Here are three more of the spots, one about ribs:
One about burgers:
And one focused on fajitas: