Sonic Goes Beyond Drive-Thru Experience To Focus On Food

Sonic Drive-In is breaking a new campaign on Monday that will introduce a new tagline (embargoed until then) that takes the place of “This is how we Sonic,” which was introduced in early 2020. Mother, Los Angeles, handled.

Sonic is now the No. 13 fast food chain, just ahead of KFC, according to QSR magazine. While the pandemic has been a challenge for most fast feeders, Sonic increased sales by $1 billion in 2020. Part of the reason for that gain was Sonic’s unique set-up, which lets customers eat in their car and avoid going inside. Now that the pandemic appears to be subsiding, Sonic is looking ahead to the next phase of its evolution.

Marketing Daily spoke with Lori Abou Habib, chief marketing officer of Sonic. While Habib didn’t disclose details about the campaign, she did talk about how the pandemic has affected the chain and fast food in general. Below are some excerpts from the conversation, which have been edited for clarity.



Marketing Daily: So what’s the next big thing for Sonic? 

Lori Abou Habib: We have been kind of plugging along with lots of innovation the last couple of years, but we're really excited to come out this fall with a new take on our advertising. At Sonic, we stand for a variety, we stand for product innovation, and really we're looking to take our advertising to a place that does some of the new product innovation justice.

I've been with Sonic for coming up on 15 years. I’ve seen lots of permutations in the ads over time, but while we've emphasized the format and the experience in the past, we want to lean a little bit heavier on the food as we move forward.

The campaign is really about taking guests from just a normal everyday occasion, being transported by their cravings, then getting the payoff of getting that unique Sonic product in the end.

Marketing Daily: Was there any discernible change in consumer behavior during the pandemic?

Habib: We had a ton of new kinds of guests come to Sonic over the last couple of years. We've had guests that were kind of lighter users come in droves more frequently. And we had consumers that have never been to a Sonic try us for the first time.

We were definitely seeing a lot of new people come into the brand over the last couple of years looking for more flavor adventures and new things to try.

That influenced some of the thinking going into a pivot on the campaign: a lot of people have been able to experience what the format's about, but we’re taking the opportunity to talk about the innovative food and some more of our imagination and creativity in a different way.

Marketing Daily: Do you see any of the changes in consumer behavior becoming permanent?

Habib: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of shifts into digital behavior, digital ordering. I definitely think that's here to stay. Consumers have gotten used to the convenience.

At Sonic, we offer our order-ahead platform, which we also deliver carside with the driving format so it's like being in a drive-through,  being first in line every time. You pull up and you have that personalized carside service with the order-ahead app.

I definitely think consumers are going to continue to prioritize that level of convenience, just being able to get in and out.

Another behavior that probably is here to stay is, people want to get exactly what they want. There was this idea, very much so, of obviously safety over the last few years, but also a little bit of eating your feelings.

I think that people are unwilling to give up what they're craving. Just given some of the confines of their lives, they're going to look for that escape. I think that's going to be an ongoing trend as well.

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