Denny's Brings in Rudolph and Friends for Holiday Push

Diner Chain Taps Into DreamWorks Partnership Ahead of Christmas, Its Busiest Day

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Denny's Corp. is tapping into its partnership with DreamWorks and using Rudolph in a new spot and on its holiday menu. The seasonal play makes sense for the diner chain, which rings up its single biggest day of sales on Christmas.

Denny's announced its deal with DreamWorks animation in April. Since then, its kids menu has featured characters from "Shrek" and other movies. Now, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and other characters appear on the menu, which includes holiday items such as new Rudolph pancakes.

The 15-second spot from Erwin Penland starts off with a look quite similar to the classic 1964 "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" TV movie. After Yukon Cornelius strikes syrup in the ground, Rudolph licks some off Hermey the elf's face. Then the spot switches to people sitting in a Denny's, linking the story to the idea of why people pour syrup on pancakes.

Denny's Rudolph Panel
Denny's Rudolph Panel Credit: courtesy of Denny's

Chief Marketing Officer John Dillon said using the characters can help Denny's, which targets groups such as millennial parents, connect with both parents and kids.

"It felt really natural to Yukon Cornelius; it felt really natural what Rudolph's role in there was," said John Cornette, executive creative director of Erwin Penland. Con Williamson, the agency's chief creative officer, added: "If we were going to do the Rudolph thing, it had to be exactly how we all remembered it."

The "Striking Syrup" spot began airing on TV in late November and in movie theaters on Dec. 1. Denny's is also using longer-format advertising, such as digital videos and customized holiday greetings featuring "The Grand Slams" characters. The online videos featuring the food characters are also now being shown in movie theaters for extended reach.

Denny's isn't the only marketer tapping Rudolph for holiday spots this year. AT&T is also running a series of spots featuring the reindeer and his friends. Rudolph, Santa, Yukon Cornelius and Bumble the Abominable Snowman all visit the store to talk with Lily the AT&T girl about the brand's offerings.

Denny's has done well in recent years. Sales at longstanding restaurants across the system, including franchised and company-run locations, have climbed in 17 of the last 18 quarters. In November, Denny's said it was on track for its highest annual same-store sales growth in more than a decade.

While Mr. Dillon could not disclose sales before the publicly-traded company reports them, he said Denny's is "very pleased with the incidence levels and what we've seen specifically with the Rudolph pancakes. If anything, we're going to lean into that even more because it is proving to drive the resonance that we expected it to drive as we started the quarter."

Spending on the campaign is in line with what it has spent in past holiday seasons, Mr. Dillon said. Denny's spent about $3.3 million, or roughly 3.6% of company restaurant sales, on marketing in the fourth quarter of 2014, up from nearly $2.5 million, or 3% of such sales, a year earlier.

"We've been able to pour a little bit more money into fourth quarter based on positive sales throughout the year, and this year's no different," Mr. Dillon said.

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