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Olive Garden is about a lot more than spaghetti and meatballs. That's what the nation's largest Italian restaurant chain seeks to convey in its first foray into magazine advertising.

The division of Darden Restaurants launches the brand-building campaign in May issues. The aim is to reach readers with incomes above $60,000 who dine out often but don't necessarily think of Olive Garden as a place to go for an authentic Italian meal with wine.


The campaign marks the first big use of national magazines for any of the top players in the estimated $44 billion casual dining segment of the U.S. restaurant business, according to data from Competitive Media Reporting. Olive Garden will spend up to $4 million on its inaugural print effort, on top of its estimated $70 million annual media budget.

The effort, from Grey Advertising, New York, will run for three months in upscale food books, and for two months in other lifestyle titles. The first buy includes ads on three consecutive right pages.

"We are hoping to kick this off with a real bang," said Michele Kay, senior VP at Grey. "We wanted to seize the print category."

Last year, Olive Garden-No. 3 in casual dining-devoted most of its $67 million in media spending to network TV, according to CMR.


In an unusual approach, the food photography for the ads was shot on motion-picture film to capture a sense of immediacy.

"I was trying to find a way to have a moment in time linger on and on," said Rich Kushell, VP-creative director at Grey.

The ads, which tout some of the chain's lighter entrees, are light on copy, too.

All carry the year-old theme, "When you're here, you're family." The theme also continues in new TV spots to break this spring.

While Olive Garden's target customer has been working, college-educated adults with incomes of $30,000 or more, the print work aims higher.

"It's a [target] group that's a little more affluent," Ms. Kay said. "They watch less TV and wouldn't see our TV advertising. But they participate in this [dining] category."

Malcolm M. Knapp, president of a restaurant consultancy bearing his name, said the jump into print makes sense in these times of strong sales in the category. He said more Americans are eating out, and those who have the most to spend may not be heavy TV viewers.

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