The biggest recent highlight for the Denny’s restaurant brand was its 2010 Super Bowl campaign marking the return of its free Grand Slam breakfast on your birthday promotion. It was also, as it turns out, the last hurrah for Denny's CEO Nelson Marchioli.
Denny’s 30-second advertisement during the game, offering a free Grand Slam breakfast on the ensuing Tuesday, captivated Americans even though it was the second consecutive Super Bowl that Denny’s tried the gambit. In this year’s cheeky TV spots, chickens were urged to “get out of town” because it was going to be a heavy egg-laying week.
Just as in 2009, Denny’s served about two million free Grand Slam breakfasts on the appointed morning. Marchioli proclaimed the event "a great day for Americans" as well as for the chain, a boast that was backed up by post-Super Bowl buzz, which rose 11 points and tied with E-Trade for biggest viral buzz-making.
Still, it wasn't enough to goose sales since then, or—as it turns out—save Marchioli's bacon. He stepped down last week after failing to build on the brand's Super Bowl's momentum.
After this year's Super Bowl, he had commented: "We received an outpouring of the most genuine and heartwarming comments from our guests, servers and managers. We hope to continue to connect with our guests with real affordable offers all year long so they can fall in love with Denny's again."
Beyond a recent move to give discounts to AARP members, those offers didn't transpire, and if/when they do, Marchioli won’t be around to reap the glory. After resigning last week, he was replaced by board chair Debra Smithart-Oglesby on an interim basis.
The buzz generated by the Super Bowl ad turned out to be a one-off blip, despite a follow-on "Grand Slam Winner for a Year" giveaway promotion. Latest-quarter revenue for the operator and franchisor of 1,500 restaurants fell 17%. Denny’s attributed the decline to its sale of corporate stores to franchisees as well as a 6.1% decline in system-wide same-store sales. There also was a dispute with dissident franchisees who were unhappy with the chain’s progress.
In any event, the quarterly decline continued a several-year slide in sales for Denny’s. It appears to be afflicted not only by Americans’ recessionary turn away from restaurant meals but also by the brand’s association with traditional high-cholesterol breakfast fare. Certainly the theme of the Super Bowl ad did nothing to disassociate Denny’s from that kind of food.
Is it too late for a better-for-you makeover of the Denny’s brand? Smithart-Oglesby is part of a new strategic team at Denny’s whose task is to goose sales and business at their restaurants. Here’s hoping they come up with something effective — before the next Super Bowl.