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Long John Silver's Restaurants uses a "Candid Camera" approach with a talking bag of takeout food in a $40 million TV campaign breaking next week in 75 spot markets.

Themed "Can't resist that crunchy stuff," it's the first work for the chain from new agency Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York. The aim is to set the chain apart from burger competitors by highlighting its batter-fried fish and chicken.

The humorous ads show people in live situations stopping to investigate talking bags of Long John Silver's food, which proclaim the food fresh, irresistible and free for the taking in the ad.

"It's a direct re-embracing of the brand," said Mike Kern, senior VP-marketing. "In the past few years, we've done a lot of new product work that did not return directly to the core," he said. "Individually they were intriguing; over time, they took our eye off the core equity of why people visit us in the first place."


Long John Silver's continues efforts to position itself as a value player with the introduction of a six-item line of $1.99 value meals that will be touted in the TV spots.

A new three-item salad line, tested successfully in the past few months, will be supported chainwide with point-of-purchase starting July 6. The salads are served with Kraft dressings, in what Mr. Kern said was the first of an expanding co-branding link with Kraft Foods.

The chain spends the bulk of its ad budget on TV. According to Competitive Media Reporting, Long John Silver's spent $27.3 million on measured media last year. Those figures don't account for some of the chain's spending in smaller markets, Mr. Kern said.

Projected systemwide sales for fiscal '98, ending July 1, are $813 million, the privately held company said. Same-store sales are up 1.8% from the prior year.

The new advertising comes one month after the chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, a move officials said will have no impact on marketing strategy or spending.

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