A myriad of brands used the platform of the Super Bowl last week to try and engage the expected 100 million global viewers watching the spectacle.  One brand that took a chance for the first time on a Super Bowl ad and plucked down the requisite $3 million for the 30-second spot was the South-Carolina-based Denny’s restaurant chain.

The objective of the Denny’s spot was to reintroduce the brand to America and promote a nationwide promotional giveaway that Tuesday of a free “Grand Slam breakfast” to all Americans coming into Denny’s establishments between 6 a.m.-2 p.m.

In a time of economic turmoil, Denny’s promotion was meant to connect with consumers who were looking for an economical choice for breakfast. The Super Bowl commercial and the promotion, showcased how Denny’s was a convenient destination, offered an affordable and complete breakfast alternative to fast food competitors, and, was willing to give something back to consumers in a time of economic unease.

With over 1,500 locations nationwide participating, the results were overwhelming.  The chain averaged 130 Grand Slam breakfasts served each hour at its establishments, with customers, like my wife and mother-in-law that could not wait on line, given vouchers redeemable for a future free breakfast.

As Denny’s CEO Nelson Marchioli said in an interview with Fortune: “I want to take back share,” said Marchioli, who planned to help serve in some South Carolina locations. “For too long, we have allowed others to take share, whether it was Starbucks or McDonald’s. They’re fine competitors and I don’t expect to take all their business from them, but I’d like a little bit back.”

It was estimated that two million Grand slam breakfasts were given away during this promotion, which cost an approximate $5 million between the commercial buy and the food giveaway.  With Denny’s charging for drinks served with the giveaway, it was expected to nearly break-even on the investment.

The public relations value from the promotion was tremendous.  The media exposure alone generated was estimated at $50 million. 

A well-thought out stunt or promotion can certainly do wonders for a brand. However, brands need to be diligent about choosing the right opportunity and ensuring that the connection with an event makes sense.

The decision by Denny’s to use the Super Bowl, one of the only events that truly reaches a family-oriented audience, was indeed the right decision.  The objectives were also the right ones.  Give Americans a reason to try the brand, make customers feel wanted and offer them something for free in tough economic times.

In Denny’s case, it was a promotion with “Grand Slam” results.

Tom Cosentino


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