Denny’s restaurant, self-proclaimed “America’s Diner,” has represented a lot in its nearly sixty-year history. The place where you can sit down, morning or late night, and order just about anything. It’s where road trippers stop along the highway to chow down on a plate of Americana, the Grand Slam. And despite the rather unremarkable cuisine and decor, it was always a dependable treat as a kid during long treks in the backseat. (This memory may not be as widely held, but Denny’s was also the place where a nine-year-old could pull a Chris Farley and order the entire (kids’) menu in one sitting. Lunch is an important meal.)
In their latest effort to stand out from the likes of IHOP, Waffle House, or even the dinner menu at Applebee’s, Denny’s and agency partner, Gotham, are giving Americans more of what they can’t seem to get enough of, bacon and bacon-themed promotions. Get ready for “Baconalia! A Celebration of Bacon,” a play on the drunken orgy/feast known as Bacchanalia, offering bacon flapjacks, bacon meatloaf and maple bacon sundaes, among other gluttonous creations. If you didn’t make the immediate connection to Bacchus – don’t worry neither did I – it has been nicely broken down for us. I’m not here to debate the palatability of these new items – though I do believe a bacon maple bar is worth showing up at a drunken orgy/feast for one – the purpose is, of course, to examine Denny’s marketing chops. Thinking about it more, a drunken orgy/feast probably doesn’t need to offer bacon maple bars to attract participants, so I might have undersold the merits of that particular dessert.
Where were we? Oh yes, the Denny’s marketing scheme. The newly anointed “Diner” has historically been a big spender. During the 2009 Super Bowl, then with agency powerhouse Goodby Silverstein, the chain promoted a Grand Slam giveaway set for an eight-hour period on the Tuesday following the game. They served two million of the free signature dishes and repeated the promotion in 2010. Another positive from the Goodby era was the face of several TV spots: a straight-shooting, even-tempered regular guy. He portrayed a refreshing change from the usual, over-the-top corny and way-too-excited-to-be-talking-about-appetizers people normally found in sit-down restaurant commercials. However, the relationship was not meant to last. Citing differences in creative direction, client and agency parted ways 18 months after coming together (also around the time Denny’s named a new CEO for the first time in nearly a decade). New York-based Gotham took over as current creative agency in August 2010.
The early part of 2011 has seen Denny’s move into branded online content. “Always Open” is a short-run web series hosted by former SNL player David Koechner, and produced by the Jason Bateman and Will Arnett-led studio DumbDumb, which had previously done work for Orbit. Featuring anything-goes conversations (anal warts… seriously) between Koechner and a celebrity funny person as they eat at a Denny’s booth, the episodes so far have been, at times, entertaining. They seem to be an acquired taste, yet regardless, it marks a bold venture into territory where most restaurant chains are not present.
From Super Bowl giveaways to bacon excess to intimate conversations with famous people, Denny’s has been making moves away from its competition while maintaining their ideal of a warm environment serving comfort food at a great price. How long will the (bacon) feeling last? We’ll have to wait and see exactly how comforting it is to customers until the morning after. Whenever that may be.