Fabian turns Denny's meals into side dish

By Published on .

Advertiser: Denny's Restaurants
Agency: Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York
Ad Review rating: One and 1/2 stars

The average 30-second national TV commercial costs something like $250,000 to produce. A single network prime-time airing is maybe another $250,000 per :30. So, if you don't mind us wondering aloud, why spend all that money to use only 4 seconds of it?

That's what Denny's Restaurants has done in a charming new spot from Lowe & Partners/SMS.

A charming and most diverting new spot that diverts the viewer's attention completely away from the subject at hand. That subject, by the way, is "Griddle Greats Starting at $3.49." But not so's you'd notice.

Screen 1 from the spot

Screen 2 from the spot

Screen 3 from the spot

Screen 4 from the spot

"Boy, does this feel like a good old Denny's," says a graying, ethnic baby boomer at a restaurant counter, where he eats breakfast to the strains of "Venus If You Will" on the jukebox. "I got hotcakes. They even have Fabian playing."

"That's not Fabian," says his friend, another graying ethnic boomer. "That's Frankie Avalon."

"No, it's Fabian," the first guy says. "I know Fabian, 'cause I had all his singles. So don't tell me that's not Fabian, please."

"Oh, yeah. You think you know Fabian?"


"I'll be right back," the second guy says, and he disappears for a moment, returning with a man in his mid-50s with carefully engineered hair too long and black for his age. Yes, it's the former teen idol himself. "Hey, Fabian," the second guy prompts. "Tell him."

"Oh," Fabian says, dismissively, "that's Frankie Avalon." Then, pausing for a beat, he adds, witheringly, "And you know nothing of my music."

Then comes 4 seconds of two stills of arrayed Denny's breakfasts, and then the kicker.

"Pass the salt," the first guy says.

"That's not salt," says the second.

That's not good advertising, says us.

We're willing to ignore the fact that producing Fabian to settle the argument is a shameless steal of the classic scene in "Annie Hall" where Woody Allen produces Marshall McLuhan to shut up the blowhard comparative-media professor standing in the movie line ahead of him. The joke is still pretty wonderful 20 years later. And Fabian is quite hilarious saying, "You know nothing of my music," which is funny on two levels (one of which is not all that flattering to Fabian).

And we can divine from the setup that the brief to the creatives said something about reaching the middle-class, especially blue-collar, demographic of baby boomers. So, while they didn't exactly film the strategy, they apparently cast the brief.

But that's not the same as selling the product, which this spot makes almost no attempt to do.

Quite to the contrary, the scenario is so captivating, and amusing, that the viewer is utterly distracted from the extraordinarily flimsy connection to the advertiser or the breakfast specialties it is ostensibly promoting. Diverting is good, but we should be diverted to the selling proposition, not away from it--that is, presuming there is a selling proposition, which a 4-second look at tiny breakfast entrees is not.

We here on the Ad Review staff can't count how many times we've heard some smug art director refer snidely to the client's brainless insistence on a product shot that ruins an otherwise transcendent piece of work for his show reel. Well, this commercial explains everything.

You'd want a product shot, too, if that's all you were getting for your money.

Copyright April 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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