"We're making a statement," company vice president Chris Contino tells Marketing Daily. "Externally, it's to let our customers and guests know we're not going anywhere. And it's also to let our franchisees know we're still strong."
The company, which plans to open 23 new stores this year in markets such as Phoenix, will showcase itself on a national stage with an advertisement airing during E!'s coverage of the red carpet arrivals at the Academy Awards on Sunday. The commercial will again be shown in spot markets during ABC's coverage of the awards, Contino says.
The effort continues a theme introduced last year chronicling the "Culverization of America." In the new advertisement, a skeptic tries to uncover the conspiracy behind Culver's friendly service. As an employee says that serving customers is her "pleasure," the skeptic stops the commercial, saying the attitude doesn't make any sense. On his wall, the skeptic has charted the "outbreak of niceness" coming from Culver's. Photos of consumers and employees smiling are "not the natural order of things," he says. "Somebody's got to figure it out, and guess who that somebody is?"
A second spot shows the skeptic wondering what has happened to his grumpy neighbor who is smiling and happy at a Culver's restaurant. Executions throughout the year will follow the skeptic trying to reveal the truth.
The marketing effort will also include radio and in-store graphics. The company is also trying its hand at social media and grassroots marketing, having started a Twitter feed and a Facebook fan page. "We still aren't sure that it works for quick-service restaurants, because so much of the buying is impulse," Contino says. "But we're hoping to hit on something that makes sense."
While the economic downturn has hurt discretionary purchases and higher-end restaurants, fast food chains have seen their sales increase as consumers seek value for their spending money. Culver's is no different, Contino says (the chain ended 2008 with a 10% sales growth, he says), making the time right for an even greater push.
"This is our chance," Contino says. "We're not cutting budgets. We're not going to bury our heads in the sand. This is our chance to find new business."
MARC USA created the campaign and also did the media buying,