Ad Spending Up, But Branding Takes a Back Seat

Jun 12, 2003

By Rick Moss

Some restaurant chains in the Twin Cities area appear to be gaining confidence in this slowly warming economy and are ramping up advertising expenditures, but their new ads are not focusing on brand-building. Rather, says an article in The Business Journal of Minneapolis-St.Paul, they’re trying “to appeal to cost-conscious consumers by featuring low prices and good food”.

Cited are five local, casual dining chains: Buca Inc., Buffets Inc., Timber Lodge Steakhouse Inc., Buffalo Wild Wings Inc. and Embers America, as well as Old Chicago Restaurants, an out-of-state chain with a large presence in the area. Whereas historically, ads for these establishments might strive to fortify the chain’s brand image — emphasizing service, atmosphere and other intangibles — the new ads are going straight for practical effect, featuring specific menu items and pushing events such as all-you-can-eat “Barbecue Nights.”

“I think the entire industry has moved into more of a promotion mode and away from the branding mode,” said Jenifer Anhorn, an account supervisor at Minneapolis-based Periscope marketing agency. “I would say that, because of the economy and because there is so much pressure to drive traffic right now, some sort of promotional hook is needed.”

For most of the chains, ad budgets are up somewhat this year, demonstrating their cautious optimism for the economy, but management seems to want to make sure there’s a bang for every buck spent. As Randall Lopez, vp marketing, Buca Inc. puts it, “For us, the brand will always be there, but we want our guests to come [for] the food.”

Moderator’s Comment: In a sluggishly improving economic
environment, are image ads simply a luxury that retailers cannot afford?

Building and maintaining a brand image is a subtle art
form, the effects of which are not easily measured. At some point, if operators
become too entranced with low-price competition and driving short-term business
goals, they may wake up to find that their brand image resembles something they
never intended. [Rick
Moss – Moderator

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