The April 2nd announcement seemed innocuous enough: “Exclusive Star Wars Trading Cards. Only at Denny’s!” The trading card packs, promoting the upcoming movie Solo: A Star Wars Story that opens on May 25th, are the result of a partnership with Lucasfilm—making Denny’s one of only six brand partnerships supporting the movie, along with Esurance, General Mills, Nissan, Symantec and (of course) SOLO Cup.
The goal of the partnership is to help “America’s Diner” appeal to younger consumers—and the beauty of Star Wars is it’s a warp speed path and a cultural touchstone to appeal to Baby Boomers, Gen Z and millennials.
Denny’s: A Star Wars Story
So it’s marketing the tie-in with a new ad campaign that’s pure pop culture, replicating the movie’s set with Easter Eggs for Star Wars fans in a departure from the brand’s usual food-centered advertising. The national TV spot, “Hand of Sabacc,” is set inside the movie’s lodge and features two young adversaries, who imagine that they are squared off in a high-stakes card game as characters from the Star Wars universe, including Chewbacca, watch from around the booth.
According to its press release, Denny’s worked closely with Lucasfilm and Skywalker Sound and enlisted the help of acclaimed production designer Neil Lamont and Oscar®-winning creature and Special Makeup Effects Supervisor Neal Scanlan (both of whom worked on Star Wars films Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: The Force Awakens) to create an authentic environment to make the spot fit naturally within the Star Wars universe.
To support the tie-in and new campaign, its homepage at Dennys.com has turned into a movie theater of sorts, with the first thing web visitors see during the promotion being the new commercial, with the new food offerings and collectibles beneath.
A Star Wars-Inspired Menu
It’s also highlighting its mobile ordering platform and refreshing its menu—even putting pop rocks on pancakes in a bid to generate social media buzz. The movie tie-in has inspired a limited-time menu: a Blaster Fire Burger, a Co-Reactor Pancake Breakfast (with Crystal Crunch Rocks to make them go pop), a Two Moons Skillet breakfast with eggs representing the moons, a Lightspeed Slam for dieters and a Crystal Crunch Your Milk milkshake.
Its menu revamp includes adding the limited time themed items as well as refreshing its classic menu—using real buttermilk, fresh eggs (and a touch of vanilla) in its iconic pancakes, for instance, and serving a new premium 100% Colombian coffee.
Fans can also pick up exclusive collector cups ($3.99 each including beverage) along with trading card packs. At $3 each, each pack contains two exclusive Topps character trading cards (there are 12 in total) and a Denny’s coupon, with a portion of all trading card pack sales—with a minimum guaranteed donation of $1 million—benefiting No Kid Hungry, an organization that provides meals to children in need.
Coming to a galaxy near you, exclusive #SoloAStarWarsStory trading cards only at @DennysDiner.
BONUS: Each purchase helps us fight childhood hunger. The force is strong with this one. https://t.co/K2s9kaBMvu
— No Kid Hungry (@nokidhungry) April 3, 2018
New Partnerships for a New Era
The collaboration with the Disney-owned epic space opera franchise is part of a revitalization plan for Denny’s that involves partnering with unexpected brands such as Hulu, Pandora and Amazon to skew younger and broaden Denny’s appeal to Baby Boomers, Millennials and Gen X.
“Our corporate strategy is to turn heads in a way that gets people talking about Denny’s,” SVP and Chief Marketing Officer John Dillon commented. It’s also part of a plan to “age down” the brand, a tack it’s been on in recent years, inspiring previous partnerships such as Atari.
To help it appeal to younger customers, it’s promoting digital touchpoints such as the 24-hour Denny’s On Demand ordering and delivery app and the recently-added Alexa skill for voice ordering. It’s also improving the customer experience, and is on track to remodel almost all (80%) of its U.S. restaurants by year-end to be more modern, comfortable and inviting.
The overarching goal of these efforts is to create a “next generation diner” that appeals to young people, and not just their parents and grandparents—or only to Star Wars fans, for that matter, although they’re a fine cohort to appeal to—and help communicate that it’s a new era for Denny’s. As its homepage states, the changes are “happening now—not a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”
Update: Here’s how some Denny’s locations are having fun with the partnership —
— John Dillon (@DillonJohnW) April 7, 2018
— John Dillon (@DillonJohnW) April 8, 2018
And Dillon’s response to the movie’s latest trailer:
And now more excitement builds. If only I knew where to get some #SoloAStarWarsStory trading cards, or have a good #StarWars inspired meal to help bide the time until May 25. Hmmm. @DennysDiner https://t.co/h90CNMbXXP
— John Dillon (@DillonJohnW) April 9, 2018