Super Bowl

Why Denny's Dropped Out of the Super Bowl

Five Questions for Restaurant Chain CMO Frances Allen

By Published on .

NEW YORK ( -- Super Bowl inventory sold out three months ahead of the game, ad time during the broadcast has crept to 48 minutes, and even Groupon wanted in on the action.

Frances Allen
Frances Allen
But as attractive as Super Bowl XLV has proved to be for some advertisers, others aren't buying the Bowl hype.

In one of the more noticeable absences in the ad lineup, restaurant chain Denny's dropped out this year, despite two consecutive Super Bowl appearances, in 2009 and 2010, during which it promoted free-breakfast giveaways it claimed at the time were a great success.

The decision to pass came under Frances Allen, a former marketer at Dunkin' Donuts who six months ago traded in coffee and munchkins for Grand Slam breakfasts when she took on the post of chief marketing officer at Denny's. Upon landing in her role, she wasted no time calling an agency review and replacing Goodby Silverstein & Partners with new agency Gotham, which handles creative and social media for the chain. The chain spends more than $70 million annually on U.S. advertising, according to Kantar Media.

Other changes are afoot at the chain too; after an international search that began last summer, it has hired longtime Brinker International exec John C. Miller as its new CEO effective Feb. 1. It's also busy rolling out its new small-restaurant concept, dubbed Denny's Cafe, in urban markets.

In a brief interview with Ad Age this week, Ms. Allen dished on Denny's rationale for dropping out of the big game. Turns out the chain's marketing strategy is more scrambled eggs than eggs in one basket.

Ad Age: Denny's is a notable absence from the Super Bowl this year. When did you decide not to participate? Did you consider it at all?

Ms. Allen: Obviously the first stage is to look very carefully at your brand, your brand's DNA and how it connects with guests, and from there formulate a plan. I don't think we sat down one day and said, "You know what, we're not gonna do Super Bowl." We have been consistently focused on evaluating the traction we are getting from our value proposition, and as we continue to make progress, shifting our strategy is a natural evolution. We have done Super Bowl for the last two years and it has accomplished the objective of reintroducing the Denny's brand to America and giving back to our guests. The Super Bowl is a big splash and a way of getting noticed, but we've really found that our guests want consistent appreciation over time. We are giving back to them every day; we didn't feel the need to do the one-hit wonder for the Super Bowl in 2011.

Ad Age: The chain's promotions tied to the Super Bowl were very high-profile in the past, and the company always said they were a sound return on investment, so what has changed?

Ms. Allen: It is a very expensive exercise and I don't believe it's necessary for us to continue to put all our eggs in one basket. And it's very cluttered. It's great at getting the immediate attention and breakthrough but we're looking for continuity in 2011. We'll use a surround-sound strategy and focus on TV, radio, outdoor, do lots of print. We'll be doing a lot of activity in social media.

Ad Age: Was it your decision to not participate in the game or did it come from higher up?

Ms. Allen: It was a process based on strategy. I guess you could say it was my decision, but in the end it was about what's the right plan for the brand. This goes broader than just a marketing decision. Our operations and field teams weigh in on the execution of a promotion, our franchisees weigh in with their opinions and we took all of that into account when we decided to focus our efforts on a broad, multilayer program that we believe better rewards our guests throughout the year, vs. doing a big, onetime push for Super Bowl.

Ad Age: Value is something that Denny's is known for. You have a value menu and the chain has marketed itself as an affordable alternative for diners amid the recession. Now that we're seeing the economy recover, is there a concern about consumers looking to trade up in the fast-casual space?

Ms. Allen: I think that the new normal is going after what matters vs. wanting more, and I think that's here to stay. It is not a concern for us. Guests will continue to seek out value, and families will continue to use Denny's as a place where the whole family can come for good food in a comfortable environment at an attractive price point. We do not think that a recovering economy will negatively impact that. In fact, we are working hard to capitalize on a recovery by putting Denny's top of mind for consumers who have not been dining out as often. We are reminding them that Denny's offers a broad menu at a compelling price point, and that includes our $2, $4, $6, $8 value menu. We see this as an opportunity, not a concern.

Ad Age: What's the best item on the Denny's menu, in your opinion?

Ms. Allen: I love the Grand Slamwich. But from the name point of view it's gotta be Moons Over My Hammy. There's an new item on our $2, $4, $6, $8 menu that has to be tried though, which is Cheeseburger Flatbread. It's delicious and could be one of my new favorites.

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