2023 Franchise Overall Marketing Leadership Award: Denny's Takes the Coveted Award with Two Winning Campaigns
This marks the 5th year for Franchise Update Media’s Annual Franchise Innovation Awards competition. Judges critiqued more than 100 entries in four main categories and 22 subcategories to determine the winners. One of the highest honors each year is the Overall Award for Franchise Marketing Leadership. In a field crowded with worthy entries, Denny’s took home the award this year after winning in two individual categories—Best PR Campaign and Cause Marketing Champion—helping the restaurant chain get the nod as the overall marketing winner.
Denny’s Everyday Value Tee, which the brand calls the “first-ever wearable coupon,” helped create a buzz around its $5.99 menu and won the legacy brand the Best PR Campaign award. A limited run of 150 fashionably designed T-shirts, each featuring a unique QR code, was sold for $5.99. The lucky winners can enjoy Denny’s Everyday Value Slam every day for a year.
We asked Denny’s Director of Brand Engagement Vivian Velazquez to tell us more about the idea of the “wearable coupon” and its impact on the brand.
Briefly describe the innovation. We created a “coupon” by stitching a unique QR code into a T-shirt. We sold a limited supply of the shirts for only $5.99, giving each wearer a free Denny’s Everyday Value Slam for a whole year.
How did Denny’s use the “wearable coupon” to generate buzz, and as part of the brand’s overall marketing strategy? The T-shirt equates to a $2,186 value! Only 150 shirts were made available for sale on the most value-driven day of the year: Black Friday. The message was distributed primarily through Denny’s owned digital channels, specifically social media platforms, loyalty e-blasts, our main website, and our merch store (Diner Drip).
What were the original goals and objectives in creating the T-shirts? Competing for value in the market has become a “starting at” cluster of non-distinctive value menus aiming to drive short-term customer traffic. So how could we stand out? We looked for a way to get value-seeking consumers—who may not consider Denny’s their go-to value destination— to choose the $5.99 “Everyday Value Slam” as their best money-saving breakfast solution by creating a buzzworthy campaign. The answer was as simple as the oldest trick in the book: a coupon, but done in a way that had never been seen before: Introducing the first-ever wearable coupon. A simple, but very different idea.
How long did it take to plan, create, and launch? Three months.
What were the main results, impacts, successes, and ROI? The campaign saw us gain significant earned media. 1) Public relations: 360 placements plus a total of 150,447,792 media impressions (equal to 2½ weeks of paid TV media); some higher-profile stories appeared on Yahoo, CNN, Forbes, and Thrillist, among others. 2 ) Social media: a 293% increase in organic impressions compared with the month before the launch, as well as an 86% positive sentiment. 3) Web traffic: more than 350,000 total visitors to DinerDrip.com at midnight on Black Friday. The T-shirts sold out within 2 minutes.
What was the impact for customers? The publicity we generated pretty much crashed our site the night of launch, with more than 350,000 visitors hungry for their chance at the most delicious meal deal ever.
What was the impact for franchisees? It was very beneficial for franchisees. Visitors ready to redeem their coupon, as well as their family and friends hungry to try other meals with them, are building strong loyalty across the board—and are happily posting about it on their social media and sharing their stories.
Denny’s Mobile Relief Diner
The Denny’s Mobile Relief Diner was created to feed people in communities following natural disasters or other crises. The 53-foot tractor-trailer with full kitchen has traveled more than 50,000 miles and served more than 100,000 meals to people affected by natural disasters like hurricanes Harvey, Ida, and Ian; the wildfire in Paradise City, California; tornadoes in Nashville; and flooding in Kentucky.
We asked Denny’s Mobile Relief Diner Program Director Paul Spencer about the mobile diner, its impact on communities in crisis, and how it might evolve.
Briefly describe the innovation. The Denny’s Mobile Relief Diner (MRD) is a 53-foot “trailer of hope.” We prepare fresh hot meals for people in need from natural disasters. This trailer has a fully equipped kitchen with grills, ovens, a cooler, a coffee brewer, an industrial mixer, a dishwasher… you name it. And with the help of local Denny’s crew members and franchisees, it’s ready to serve thousands of meals to communities when disaster strikes. It provides victims with a break from the chaos and gives them the hope of better days to come.
Explain how Denny’s uses the MRD as a part of its overall marketing strategy. “We love to feed people” is our brand purpose. It’s what drives us to do what we do each and every day. The MRD is the embodiment of that purpose.
What were the goals and objectives in creating and launching the MRD? It started in 2017, when Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston. Most of our stores in the area were damaged and had to close. That sparked the question, “How can we help our guests in Houston get through this disaster?” And the idea for the MRD was born. In just 11 days, we built a temporary version of a mobile kitchen in a 53-foot tractor-trailer and immediately sent it to Houston. During the week we spent in Houston feeding thousands of people, another hurricane was brewing in the Atlantic and heading for South Florida and the Keys—Hurricane Irma. The impact there also was devastating, so we packed up and headed to Florida. The overwhelmingly positive responses we received from victims of these tragic storms led us to formalize our mission of hope and build the MRD you see today.
What’s unique about it? A few things come to mind. Everything is cooked and served immediately, just like in our restaurants. Nothing is premade and stored for distribution later. MRD meals are taken from the pages of our restaurant menu, serving Denny’s meals like pancakes and sausage, hot Denny’s brand coffee, and our Super Bird sandwich. But we’re not there just to feed people. We’re there to bring a smile to their faces, interact with them, show them we care, and bring a bit of normalcy to a moment of chaos. As we say at Denny’s, we’re not only feeding bodies, we’re also feeding minds and souls. The MRD is a perfect example of our brand purpose. As I said, “We love to feed people.”
How long did it take to put together, launch, and tweak the MRD to perfection? It took about six months to design and build. As soon as it was ready, we took off for California to respond to the Carr wildfires. We ended up responding to three more disasters that year. Since we used what we learned from our first makeshift mobile kitchen, we knew exactly what would work and what wouldn’t. The current design has proven to be spot-on, and we continue to make minor tweaks to improve our response performance.
What have been some of the main results, impacts, and successes of the MRD? Since its launch in late 2017, the MRD has traveled more than 51,000 miles across the country and has served more than 102,000 meals to those in need. We have deployed to areas hit by tornadoes, tropical storms, hurricanes, floods, and wildfires.
What was the impact for customers? When we serve a community in need, we are always overcome with emotion from the generous responses we receive. In many cases, the people we serve are Denny’s customers. Frequently we hear, “We didn’t know you did this.” We believe these encounters help create a greater guest connection with the brand. We work hard at creating a memorable experience for those who visit the MRD.
What was the impact for franchisees? The impact on our franchisee community and restaurant crews has been overwhelming. When we deploy to a disaster area, we work closely with our franchisees and restaurant crews to staff the unit. Although many in the brand have heard about the MRD, brand members don’t really understand the significance of our mission until they work on it. I can say without hesitation that everyone who works on the MRD wants to do it again. The common theme I hear from team members is that the brand is doing something truly extraordinary by giving back in times of great need. It’s a huge pride point for all our brand members.
What were the main results, impacts, successes, and ROI? This isn’t a typical investment where you can connect people served with increases in sales or traffic. We measure our success by the number of people we touch each year and by the responses we get from those we have helped. While in Cape Coral, Florida, for Hurricane Ian, a woman who came every day with her children expressed her sadness that it was our last day since now she would now miss having a hot breakfast for her children each morning. That’s what true success looks like—making a difference in people’s lives!
Will there be further evolution of the MRD? Yes, we continue to evolve the MRD program. Our main priority has been, and will continue to be, disaster relief. But in calm weather times, we are constantly looking for opportunities to expand our reach to communities or groups who may be underserved and to charities dedicated to supporting individuals in need.
2023 Franchise Marketing Leadership Award Finalists
- Cause Marketing Champion: Denny’s
- Best Digital Campaign: Dogtopia (Canada)
- Best Loyalty App: Tropical Smoothie Cafe
- Best Social Media Campaign: Budget Blinds/Home Franchise Concepts
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