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Darden Restaurants may soon put outdoor and cinema ads on Red Lobster's media menu, as the chain experiments with new ways to tout its seafood.

Agency Euro RSCG Tatham, Chicago, plans to present its client with a new outdoor strategy in the coming weeks. And, in an unusual move for a national restaurant chain, Darden has been testing commercials in movie theaters in four markets.

"There's lots of evidence that people go out to eat after movies," said Gary Epstein, president of Tatham.

Red Lobster spent $72 million on measured media last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting. A shrimpy $735,000 of that was devoted to outdoor.

The chain, long dependent on network TV, also has stepped up radio advertising. Its $4.8 million in network radio last year was more than eight times that of the prior year, according to CMR; national spot radio more than quintupled, to $2.1 million.


This all comes at a time of renewed fortunes for the once-floundering chain. Last month, Darden reported comparable sales at the 684-unit chain rose 6.8% for the quarter ended Feb. 28, compared with the same period a year ago. That was the fifth straight quarter of sales growth for the chain, which suffered from lackluster or declining sales for much of the 1990s.

The chain breaks a new 30-second spot this week; it uses togetherness as the theme to tout a limited-time offer of lobster and shrimp for $12.99.

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