Denny's Super Bowl free 'Grand Slam Breakfast' brings 2 million diners

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Friday, February 6, 2009

Lighted sign of a Denny's Diner restaurant in Dallas, Texas

Denny's 1,600 chain restaurants across North America, Puerto Rico and Canada, were slammed for eight hours Tuesday with hungry patrons standing on sidewalks for nearly two hours to take advantage of the $5.99 "Grand Slam Breakfast" giveaway.

Denny's, a dining chain with annual revenue of about $900 million, has advertised in a TV commercial Sunday during the Super Bowl XLIII that it would give away its signature breakfast from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. local time Tuesday, at all its restaurants in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico, while supplies lasted.

Denny's Diner has promoted the iconic dish giveaway heavily, with a bold 30-second appeal ad that aired during the third quarter of the Super Bowl 43 on Sunday, plus another 15-second ad during the post-game show, offering a free breakfast to some 90 million viewers. In addition, it has placed a full-page ad in USA Today's Monday edition. The promotion was further announced on The Today Show and notices were also sent out to the chain's "Denny's Breakfast Club" members.

The NBC ad, which was bought to unveil a new promotion for customers squeezed by the recession, may have cost as much as $3 million, said Nelson Marchioli, CEO of Denny's Corp. Super Bowl XLIII's 30-second commercial time slot costs $2.4 million–$3 million for the airtime alone, excluding production and talent costs.

The game was televised live by the US NBC Sunday Night Football and Canada's CTV Television Network. BayTSP has reported that, "as of 10 a.m. Wednesday, commercials that initially aired during NBC's Super Bowl XLIII broadcast subsequently had been watched online more than 28 million times."

"The promotion has a total cost of $5 million U.S., which includes $3 million for the commercial on NBC," said a Denny's spokesman, noting also that the company received about $50 million in news coverage, most of which was positive. According to a Denny's representative, two million people walked through the restaurant chains’ doors Tuesday, and each Denny’s restaurant served an average of 130 Grand Slams per hour.

With the "Denny's Feeds America" promotion, the company has reported 14 million hits on its Web site between Sunday night and Monday morning. Denny's shares rose 6 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $1.98 in afternoon trading. The stock has traded in a range of $1.18 to $4.10 over the past 52 weeks.

A Halloween pancake at a Denny's restaurant in Tokyo

"Denny's free Grand Slam" has ranked in the top 10 Google searches early Tuesday and fell to No. 18 by the end of the promotion, while “denny s locations” was #9 on Google Trends, which tracks fast-rising searches. It has also held spots No. 1 (Denny's) and 7 (Grand Slam) on Twitter's trending topics. It has generated much chat on Twitter, garnering 1,700 tweets on Tuesday, compared with its average of 59. Doritos, winner of the USA TODAY survey for best Super Bowl spot ad, had 933 mentions after reaching a peak of almost 3,300.

The idea of the TV ad was to get people to come in and re-evaluate Denny’s Diner. “A lot of people have forgotten what Denny’s is, or they think they know, while we’ve come out with a whole lot of new products. We felt like we needed to jump start the brand,” Denny’s Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer Mark Chmiel said.

"We're celebrating the Grand Slam this year," Chmiel said. According to the company's financial data, on January 15 Denny's reported systemwide comparable-store sales for the fourth quarter were down 6.1 percent, compared to a 0.2 percent decline from the same period in 2007.

According to Robert Gonzalez, public relations company Hill & Knowlton spokesman, Denny's has expected at least 2 million people to eat a free Grand Slam by the end of the promotion. "Every restaurant is packed with people and lines," Gonzalez said. "Everything today is about fast. People are on the go, and they're eating fast food. It's cutting into sit-down dining," he added.

"Each of the more than 1,500 Denny's were planning to make about 100 Grand Slams an hour," Denny's spokeswoman Cori Rice said. It had predicted it will have served about 1,400 people per location, more than five times the normal volume. "Grand Slam Breakfast" is a four-item option on its menu, consisting of two pancakes, two eggs, two strips of bacon and two sausage links. It weighs in at 44 grams of fat, 56 carbohydrates and 770 calories.

Nationwide, Denny's expected to sell about 2 million Grand Slams — about 15 percent of the annual tally. According to Mark Chmiel, chief marketing operator and executive vice president, the diner chain has reported approximately 2 million meals worth more than $12 million were given away nationwide and each Denny’s restaurant served an average of 130 Grand Slams per hour. It estimated it has earned about $50 million worth of public relations following the free Grand Slam campaign, Chmiel said.

The company is also experimenting with a Grand Slam Burrito and also has introduced for this year, a Grand Slamwich, which includes eggs, bacon, sausage and cheese between two slices of bread, with a teaspoon serving. "It already has shown strong consumer appeal," said Chmiel. The company has received flood of e-mails and letters proving the positive impact of the Grand Slam campaign and commercials on its customers.

Chmiel also announced he's planning a third major promotion in this year's third quarter, which happens to include another major sporting event, the World Series. "That's one we're definitely looking at," he said.

Jobless Paris Winslow of downtown San Francisco, California has joined the long line which stretched from the front door on Mission Street, between Fourth and Fifth streets, to the corner of Fourth and up the block. "The economy is getting kind of scary. This line looks like those pictures of soup kitchen lines during the 1929 Great Depression," Winslow said.

"I came all the way from San Francisco for a free $6 meal, Isn't that pathetic? A year ago, I never would have done this. These days I'm willing to put my ego on the back burner," said Stephen Weller, a jobless contractor who waited with his dog, Emmett. California Denny's restaurant managers have issued rain checks (for free chilled meals, as security backed by actual bacon) to anyone who failed to get in by the 2 p.m. deadline.

A big eater could also "Slam It Up" by adding any two additional items for 99 cents each to their meal. Customers on Tuesday were also handed "bounceback" coupon books that include offers for additional free menu items with purchases. Chicago Tribune reporter Kevin Pang has eaten five free Grand Slams on Tuesday at five different Denny's Diners in four hours. He claims to have consumed 4,100 calories at Harwood Heights, 5:36 a.m, at Schiller Park, 6:22 a.m., at Franklin Park, 7:08 a.m., at Melrose Park, 7:41 a.m. and at Grand Slam No. 5 Oak Park, 8:57 a.m.

Denny's Diner in Bangor, Maine, inspired by 1960 culture.

"The Grand Slam has always been a Denny's favorite. This free offer is our way of reacquainting America with Denny's real breakfast and with the Denny's brand," Denny's CEO Nelson Marchioli said in a statement. In 1977s, the Grand Slam started as a baseball-related promotion in Atlanta, Georgia. Its normal price averages around $5.99. Marchioli said the event was also a way to kick-off its "Year of the Grand Slam" promotion. Denny's claimed it has sold 12.5 million Grand Slams a year.

"The economy's tough and people are jumping all the way to fast food to try to figure it out. We all use fast food, whether it's for time or convenience or for money. But you can go to Denny's and you don't have to give up a real breakfast and that was the whole focus of our commercial," Marchioli explained. McDonald's (MCD, Fortune 500) has done well during this economic meltdown since the global recession pushes people toward less expensive dining options.

McDonald's has announced plans Wednesday to open 175 new restaurants in China this year despite the global economic crisis, thereby increasing the number of outlets in China by 17 percent, from 1,050 currently. Last month, McDonald's 2008 net profit has risen 80 percent from 2007 to 4.3 billion dollars.

Marchioli has also introduced Denny's $4 Weekday Express Slam, which is a streamlined version of the Grand Slam. "I want to take back share. For too long, we have allowed others to take share, whether it was Starbucks or McDonald's. They're fine competitors and I don't expect to take all their business from them, but I'd like a little bit back," Marchioli noted.

According to Rafi Mohammed, author of "The Art of Pricing," people love free. "It triggers a Pavlovian response in people," said Mohammed. If Pavlov's dogs salivate when a bell rings, Denny's free Grand Slam breakfast has attracted 2 million hungry customers. "I believe free maximizes trial and doesn't devalue a product as long as it is a rare event. Aside from the cost, the major downside is that it attracts customers who truly have no intention of coming back," he added.

According to University of Portland consumer psychology professor Deana Julka, people flock to free promotions amid just a few dollars saving because there's nothing in life for free. "So when there's something out there that costs nothing, it creates a psychological rush. Especially in these times when people feel overtaxed or overburden, there's an internal reward people feel by getting something for free," she said. "It's being thrifty and feeling like you beat the system. Free really hits the spot for a lot of people," Julka added.

"Free is an emotional hot button. When free is concerned, there is no downside - or, at least, we don't see the downside immediately. So we overvalue everything that is free. People love free stuff, particularly when money's tight," said Dan Ariely, a business professor at Duke University, author of "Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions."

Experts, however, explained these moves need to be done sparingly, since giveaways can teeter in the balance between desperation and a well designed marketing ploy. "Giving your product away for free is not worth it because it undermines your brand value," said branding expert Rob Frankel, saying people are attached to the idea of it being free, than the actual product itself.

Free giveaways are not anything new in the food industry. "It just feels good when you can get something for free and not have to worry about it coming out of your wallet," Frankel noted. Dunkin' Donuts and Panera Bread all have had free coffee and food promos last year. "In November, Starbucks gave away free cup of coffee to anyone who came in on Election Day. Have you taken a look at how Starbucks is doing now?" Last week it has announced it would shut down 300 stores, in addition to the 600 it already planned to close.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly over Superbowl XLIII prior to kickoff in Tampa, Florida, February 1, 2009

On February 24, IHOP will be offering a free shortstack to every customer to encourage donations (in place of the cost) for Childrens Miracle Network. The International House of Pancakes (IHOP) is a United States-based restaurant chain that specializes in breakfast foods and is owned by DineEquity. The chain had more than 1950 restaurants in all 50 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Canada and Mexico. Since 2006, IHOP's National Pancake Day celebration has raised over $1.85 million. In 2008, over 1.5 million pancakes (12 miles high if they were stacked) were given to customers for donations.

Denny's ("Denny's Diner") is a full-service diner/family restaurant chain in the United States. It operates over 2,500 restaurants in the United States (including Puerto Rico), Canada, Curaçao, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, and New Zealand). The resto chain is known for always being open, serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert around the clock.

Today, Denny's operates about 1,600 restaurants in all 50 U.S. states, Canada and Mexico. There are also about 578 Denny's restaurants in Japan operated under a license by a subsidiary of Seven & I Holdings, seven Denny's locations in New Zealand, and approximately 38 Denny's diners in the United States. Denny's headquarters is now located in Spartanburg, South Carolina, headquarters of the parent company Trans World Corporation that acquired Denny's in 1987.

Denny's was historically notable for offering a free meal to anyone on their birthday. The offer included a limited number of meal options from a special birthday menu. The promotional ritual ceased in 1993, though occasionally individual franchises will continue the tradition.

In 2008, Denny's has ceased to be in the ranks among the top diner chains in the $83 billion breakfast market, whose top five firms -- McDonald's, Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, Burger King and IHOP -- accounted for 22 percent of the volume. "A lot of consumers have written Denny's off their let's-go-there list," said Ron Paul, president of Technomic, a consulting firm.

Super Bowl XLIII was an American football game between the American Football Conference champion Pittsburgh Steelers (15–4) and the National Football Conference champion Arizona Cardinals (12–8) to decide the National Football League (NFL) champion for the 2008 NFL season. It was played on February 1, 2009, at Raymond James Stadiumin Tampa, Florida. It has an attendance of 70,774 and 98.7 million viewers. Pittsburgh earned its sixth Super Bowl win, thus securing sole possession of the record for most Super Bowl wins.


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Sources

Wikipedia Learn more about Denny's, Grand slam (baseball) and Super Bowl XLIII on Wikipedia.
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