Promotions | February 2014 | By Bryan Reesman

Build the Buzz

National TV spots spark consumer excitement in new markets.

Quick service brands use national TV exposure to grow in local markets.
Dairy Queen executives find that national ad buys are more efficient than local advertising. Dairy Queen

National broadcast advertising creates a large ripple effect across the country, and quick-serve brands are finding that such advertising can be useful in building demand in new and emerging markets.

Using advertisements to build a buzz for a brand that has yet to reach certain regions can lead to consumer excitement and winding lines out the doors of new units, quick-serve brand representatives say.

Massachusetts-based Dunkin’ Donuts, a longtime East Coast staple, will enact its major California rollout in 2015, having successfully tested the Golden State waters with units in San Diego and Barstow. Grant Benson, Dunkin’ Brands’ vice president of global franchising and business development, says the company’s existing national advertising strategy will play heavily in the 2015 rollout.

“The advertising spend that we have going on in that state, even before we opened the two locations, really does keep people aware of the brand and does build up that demand,” Benson says.

National advertising in the California markets also gave new franchisees confidence about joining the team, he says, because they knew there was already brand awareness and growth opportunities for the business.

For soft-serve ice cream brand Dairy Queen, national advertising plays an important role in marketing strategy as the company looks to expand its business further into California and Florida.

“Our advertising is a combination of national and local, and we are on air nationally nine months a year,” says Barry Westrum, American Dairy Queen’s executive vice president of marketing. “In 2004, we went to national advertising, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that it is just becoming more efficient to purchase for national chains than local advertising is.”

The brand reaped the rewards of its national ad buys when it opened a Long Island, New York, location, a previously untapped locale, in the summer of 2013 to door-busting traffic.

Westrum says many of Dairy Queen’s competitors are following suit with national marketing efforts, and that one key benefit of such advertising is the ability to make a brand relevant and contemporary in multiple markets simultaneously while also boosting development efforts.

Sonic Drive-In Restaurants also relies on national advertising to drive growth into untapped markets, says Patrick Lenow, the company’s vice president of public relations. He adds that the concept recently reached a tipping point when it compared the cost of advertising locally, market by market, to national ad-buy costs. Sonic generally buys national cable ads and uses both “traditional advertising and a lot of integrations with different shows,” Lenow says.

At Sonic’s annual convention in 2012, corporate leaders approached franchisees about shifting more marketing funds from local ad buys into national spots, “so that we could be a consistent player on national television,” he says.

“They saw the business case for it, endorsed the idea, and we really hit it strong in January of this year,” Lenow adds. “It’s very easy to say that both we and our franchisees have been very happy with the decision.”

Dairy Queen’s Westrum believes his brand’s mix of national and local advertising will continue to play a critical role in driving same-store sales growth for existing locations and create demand for new locations. When the frozen-dessert concept debuted in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2006, locals responded with loyal business after several years of seeing the brand’s TV ads. National advertising that targets areas lacking, but desiring, a particular brand offers economic advantages, Westrum says, like those seen in Anchorage.

“I think the key is having a creative product that is compelling to existing consumers and new consumers as well, and I think we have that with [our] ‘Fan Food Not Fast Food’ [campaign],” he says.

Dunkin’s Benson says it is more economical, from a cost and efficiency standpoint, to buy national advertising instead of local.

“To buy and run in Bozeman, Montana, even though there may not be a store planned there for quite a while, costs us less than excluding Bozeman,” he says. “There is some benefit that we derive not only in the new markets, but by being more efficient in our spending in existing markets as well.”

Jason Wright, group strategy director for the marketing firm VIA Agency, believes quick serves with a strong brand persona are the ones that benefit most from this scenario, “where they’re advertising on a smaller scale, but still nationally,” he says. “It creates that sense of mystique. But it’s hard to put metrics against it to say that this is definitely the right strategy.”

Wright says the appeal of long-running franchises is often strong word of mouth from locals and frequent visitors to an area. For example, West Coast natives are excited about Dunkin’ Donuts, he says, and East Coast natives crave the California-based In-N-Out Burger.

“It’s like Coors back in the ’70s,” Wright says, citing the beer brand. “You couldn’t get Coors on the extreme West Coast, and you certainly couldn’t get it on the East Coast. It was much more of a Colorado brand that had this mystique and aura about it because you couldn’t get it.”

David Kincheloe, president of National Restaurant Consultants, also cites In-N-Out Burger in describing the benefits of a brand that is known nationally.

“People love In-N-Out Burger, but they’re only in California, Arizona, Utah, and Texas,” Kincheloe says. “But they’ve built a national brand. Because people travel so much back to the West Coast from New York, if you opened up an In-N-Out Burger [back east,] there would be a line out the door.”

Wright cites nationally recognized brands with unique offerings, such as Dairy Queen with its Blizzard treats, and unique approaches, like Sonic’s drive-in dining, as benefitting from a national ad strategy. The consumer desire for a new experience that is long advertised but previously unattainable explains winding lines that can occur after a unit opens.

Because it’s just such a different experience for a lot of people, that’s what’s going to drive them half the time,” Wright says, “just to find out what that excitement is all about.”

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