Denny's Builds On Success Of Gen Y-Targeted Videos

Koechner-and-Biel-B2After pulling more than 6 million views with its first round of humorous, Millennial-targeted “Always Open” videos, Denny’s is back with a second season. 

This round again features David Koechner (“Anchorman,” “Saturday Night Live,” “The Office”) interviewing Gen Y-friendly celebrities as they sit together in a booth in a Denny’s restaurant. 

The first new video, featuring Jessica Biel, launched today. Others coming include Maya Rudolph (May 9), Andy Richter (June 6), Dax Shepard (July 11), Christina Applegate (Aug. 8) and Chris Pratt (Sept. 5). 

As with season one, which the chain launched a year ago, Denny’s created the new videos through a partnership with DumbDumb Productions (owned by Jason Bateman and Will Arnett), entertainment studio Electus, Denny’s advertising agency Gotham Inc. and IPG Mediabrands’ branded entertainment unit, Ensemble.  

The three-minute episodes are viewable on CollegeHumor.com, Dennys.com, DumbDumb.com and social media channels including Facebook and YouTube.

From the campaign’s inception, the third-party media channels were carefully chosen to reach Millennials, one of several key audience targets within Denny’s overall marketing strategy –- which, by dint of the restaurant chain’s broad “America’s Diner” positioning, demands both mainstream and vertical outreach.

The original creative approach also continues: Koechner asks the celebs offbeat, provocative questions, resulting in free-wheeling and often suggestive dialogues. The Biel interview is no exception: The video opens with Biel noting that she’s being filmed by both “cleavage and crotch-shot cameras,” and moves on to Koechner asking her how long it would take to get her to have sex with him if they were stranded together on Mount Kilimanjaro, as well as how she would attempt to befriend/”flirt with” a yeti. 

“Although many people find this hard to believe, these are completely unscripted,” Denny’s VP, marketing John Dillon tells Marketing Daily

Aside from the branded opening and closing credits and the branding provided by the interview setting (a Denny’s menu is visible in most shots), there are no overt plugs for the chain. Which, as Bateman noted in a New York Times piece, not only serves to avoid alienating the target audience, but makes it possible to get the celebs to do the interviews, as well as to avoid any question of endorsement fees. Indeed, as Dillon notes, a number of interviewees have elected to post or tweet about the videos on their own Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Naturally, viewers of the Denny’s videos are given tools to readily share them on Facebook and Twitter (as well as by email, if there are still any Millennials using that ancient communications medium). 

And Dillon credits Koechner’s talent for eliciting surprising comments/moments that drive “shareability” for much of the viral success of the videos. “People want to be among the first to see the videos and alert their friends to moments that they find particularly funny,” he notes.

While he declines to share Denny’s data on the correlation between actual Millennial visits/sales and the videos, Dillon confirms that this campaign contributed to Denny’s’ seeing an overall uptick in same-store sales last year (up 0.7%, after two years of 4% to 5% declines during the height of the recession). 

Dillon notes that YouGov BrandIndex Buzz scores for Denny’s among adults 18-34 showed a significant leap after the first season’s videos debuted (jumping from -4.3 to +25.4 within three weeks). Also, while these results reflect all of the chain’s marketing efforts, not just the “Always Open” videos, Denny’s Facebook “likes” (now at more than 413,000) have risen by 98% since those videos launched, and its Twitter engagement (including currently about 6,500 followers for its @DennysAllnightr handle) has increased by 78%.

“We’re connecting with Millennials on an emotional, non-forced level,” he says. “The videos convey in a genuine way that Denny’s is a comfortable, come-as-you-are environment for them, as well as for people of all age groups.”

And while Millennials “over-index” in terms of the demographics of customers visiting Denny’s during the later-night hours (the chain’s updated “America’s Diner Is Always Open” tagline is in no small part meant to attract the younger crowd), this age group is also a big part of the daytime customer base, according to Dillon. “Many younger people have flexible schedules because they’re in college or high school, and so have time to drop in for breakfast, lunch or a snack,” he notes.

Building that awareness and comfortability factor is also paying off in younger consumers’ responsiveness to Denny’s’ mainstream menu promotions and advertising. For example, its current “Build Your Own Pancakes” promotion/marketing campaign is proving particularly appealing to Millennials, Dillon reports.

Denny’s other segment-targeted marketing efforts are also yielding results. For example, its Hispanic-oriented video campaign (with unique Spanish- and English-language creative versions), featuring “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Millan as the “Skillet Whisperer” taming the chain’s Sizzlin’ Skillets menu offerings, pulled more than a million views within a short time frame and continue to draw viewers, says Dillon. “Those videos also significantly beat our expectations,” he reports.

Perhaps brought into the fold through the “Always Open” videos, Millennials, too, have proven big fans of the Sizzlin’ Skillets items -- as well as of limited-time items within menu themes such as “Let’s Get Cheesy!” (promoted in part through social media activities like encouraging fans to share “cheesy” pick-up lines and jokes), Dillon notes. 

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