Dave & Buster's hits national TV

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Dave & Buster's is trying the silent treatment to lure customers.

The chain of entertainment and dining complexes last week broke its first national TV campaign. Like any other TV advertising, the pair of commercials features visuals and music -- but no voice-over. The speechless spots are being targeted to 25-to-44-year-old guys who watch sports TV in often noisy bars.

"We are a very visual concept," said Stuart Myers, hired last year as VP-marketing at Dave & Buster's. "We wanted to make the spots work with the volume off or on to help reach our target audience at home and in competitive locations." The spots will run on ESPN, Fox Sports and "places where a lot of guys watch games in sports bars with volume down."

BrannWorldwide's BrannForbes unit in Dallas created the $9 million branding campaign, which also includes radio, print and direct efforts.

Despite a 35% sales increase to $247 million in 1999, Dave & Buster's saw profits drop. That led the company to triple its marketing budget to include the branding effort.

The two 30-second TV commercials are the centerpiece of the campaign. The special-effects-filled spots show twenty- and thirtysomethings getting transported out of ho-hum sports-viewing situations through a "Stargate"-like portal into a Dave & Buster's entertainment and restaurant complex.

The first commercial, titled "Buddies," shows three guys sitting bored at a bar until they're magically transported to a Dave & Buster's, where they ride motorcycle simulators and play videogames and other amusements. Like any good male fantasy, the spot ends with one guy getting a girl. Then the campaign's tagline: "Big-time fun."

The second spot, called "Couple," opens with a man and woman bored at home. He looks for a video while she raids the refrigerator until the Dave & Buster's portal takes them to an evening of excitement and romantic bliss.

Fun, not food, is the campaign's core positioning, a tack affirmed in market research and amplifying the longstanding appeal of Dave & Buster's. "The games are really what drive people's visits to Dave & Buster's," Mr. Myers said, adding that 76% of customers eat in the restaurant or order food. "We're a one-stop entertainment destination."

Mr. Myers said Dave & Buster's differentiates itself from other "eatertainment" concepts by offering adults a break from everyday activities rather than being a one-visit "tourist" destination, like Hard Rock Cafe or Rainforest Cafe.

"These eatertainment things mystify me, quite frankly," said Bob Goldin, exec VP at Technomic. Mr. Goldin said the fundamental problem with such concepts is they draw low-frequency visits.

While Dave & Buster's research didn't offer any new insights about the chain's appeal, it did prove awareness about the national chain's offerings was low.

"What we gleaned were compelling messages we need to use to draw those not coming," Mr. Myers said. Responses from focus group participants made him realize customers didn't understand the concept. To that end, Dave & Buster's will create a 60-second version of one spot to run during high-profile programming.

The other part of the campaign's one-two punch is the media buy, planned and executed by Southwest Media, Dallas. The agency created a separate media plan for each of Dave & Buster's 25 markets. Spot buys and regional sports network programs are among the buys on "Guy TV," as Mr. Myers called it. Some markets will include local cable buys on TNT and Comedy Central. Thirty- and 60-second radio spots will run on local sports programming.

The $9 million budget includes a $1 million direct push to promote catering services for special events and parties; the bulk of the remainder is split evenly between TV and radio.

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