It's always a challenge for a brand to shift its demographic focus. But that's what Denny's hopes to do, with a novel Web-only campaign.
The restaurant chain, whose television advertising generally targets families and older consumers, is breaking out of traditional media with a video series running only on CollegeHumor.com, with little mention elsewhere except Denny's Facebook page. The series launched about a year ago; "Season Two" has just begun.
Called "Always Open," the web video series, according to Denny's chief marketing officer Frances Allen, is designed to bring Denny's pitch, "America's Diner is Always Open," to Millennials, ages roughly 18 to 30. Allen tells the New York Times that the new video series offers "an engaging brand moment for millennials" that "communicates our brand message that diners are really welcoming places where everyone can come as they are."
The series is more like branded content than advertising. The segments begin and end with Denny's name but do not otherwise promote the diner. Each episode is unscripted, several minutes in length. Host comedian Dave Koechner is shown sitting in a Denny's booth, "being open" with various college-friendly celebrities. In one episode, Koechner asks his ex-"Saturday Night Live" cast-mate Amy Poehler, "What have you overcome in your life?" When Poehler is tongue-tied, Koechner offers to go first, then removes his hat to reveal his bald head as Amy deadpans, "My God." Another video with guest Jessica Biel is rife with sexual innuendo, thanks to Koechner's off-color questions.
This style of content is optimized for a site like College Humor. Denny's could never be so provocative were it not for being "really tight with our targeting," explains Frances Allen. "Being mindful of not being offensive, brands have to take the guardrails off a little." Clearly, Denny's is doing just that with "Always Open." The videos starkly contrast with Denny's TV ads whose gentle humor highlight's the chain's food and prices. But Denny's understands that to move the needle on sales, it must widen its audience. The chain saw sales decline in 2009 and 2010 but showed a slight increase in 2011.
Branded content and branded entertainment are becoming ever more common, as brand marketers seek to expand beyond traditional media. The online world lends itself to flexible video formats and messaging that can veer from the standard marketing pitch.
The "Always Open" series was produced by a production company called DumbDumb which specializes in branded content. DumbDumb is owned by actors Will Arnett and Jason Bateman, both of whom appear with Koechner in the series.