Sonic Drive-In

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To say Sonic Drive-In Restaurants became a national brand in 1999 is like calling a star an overnight sensation. It's not something done in a day, let alone a year, contends Pattye Moore, the 42-year-old exec VP of Sonic Corp.

The chain of drive-in restaurants are quite familiar to travelers south of the Mason-Dixon line.

But last year was a turning point for the chain, founded as Top Hat in 1953 with the then-typical format: burgers, root beer and carhops. In May 1999, Ms. Moore, then senior VP-marketing and brand development, oversaw the launch of a 60-market, $35 million cable TV and radio campaign via Barkley Evergreen & Partners, Kansas City, Mo.

The commercials featured its new ambassador, Katie the Carhop, a jingle sung by the Beach Boys and the tag, "New look. Same great food." Spending has been pumped up to $64 million for the 2000 advertising effort.

To convert the collection of 1,300 mom-and-pop drive-ins in 1994 into "America's drive-in," Ms. Moore put together her own dream team consisting of key franchisees, store managers and agency Barkley. By the end of 1999, the project, which included an expanded menu and remodeled restaurant units, was better than 80% completed, making the timing right for the TV effort.

Today, Sonic has 2,077 units in 27 states and annual sales of $2 billion, making it the No. 5 burger chain behind McDonald's Corp., Burger King, Wendy's International and CKE Restaurants' Carl's Jr.

"We set out some very specific financial goals in 1994," Ms. Moore says. "I thought they were unachievable, and we've surpassed them."

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