Ad of the Week: Chili's breaks through with a slow ride back to its roots

Nostalgia-fueled spot offers a refreshing change from cliched fast-casual imagery, says Ace Metrix's VP of marketing

Breaking through the clutter and grabbing attention is incredibly challenging in the uber-competitive world of restaurant and QSR advertising. Mostly we see :15 and :30 ads consisting of close-up shots of pizza, burgers and sandwiches, interspersed with quick edits of fresh ingredients and happy people gathering at the particular dining establishment being advertised. These ads perform well in testing because they stir up intense feelings of hunger and desire.

Chili’s breaks away from this formula with its latest campaign, which takes viewers back to the brand’s roots. Discussing the campaign in a press release, Chili’s CMO Krista Gibson said, "Our goal for the new campaign was to figure out how do we take a brand that everyone thinks they know everything about and make people sit up and listen." She added, "The answer is to tell them something unique that they don't know. And, for us, that's our heritage story."

Nostalgia is a common vehicle in advertising, and this campaign may remind you of others that exalt a company’s humble beginnings.

In Ace Metrix testing, "Chilin’ Since ’75" performed above Restaurant category norms in every measure. With an Ace Score of 655, the :30 spot, created by Hill Holliday, was driven by high marks in Desire, Information and Likeability. Previous Chili’s ads that performed better than "Chilin’ " were mostly driven by Desire and Relevance. The purposeful shift to focus on Breakthrough is evident in this new spot. Only 6% of all Chili’s ad tested by Ace Metrix (104 ads total) had higher scores in Likeability and Attention combined (the components of the Breakthrough dimension).

The Ad Personalities below compare our ad of the week with another top scoring Chili’s ad that we’ve tested, "More Options," from January of this year. One of only three Chili’s ads since 2010 to have an overall higher Ace Score than "Chilin’," "More Options" has a higher propensity toward the Product dimension, while "Chilin’ " shows a shift, while slight, toward Breakthrough.

Ad Personality "Chilin’ Since ‘75"                        Ad Personality "More Options"

For viewers, the typical Single Best Thing about a restaurant ad will either be the Brand, Visual Scenes, Deal or Offer showcased. Viewers of "Chilin’ Since ‘75" overwhelmingly selected the Music and the Visual Scenes as the Single Best Thing (21% each.) The 1975 song "Slow Ride" by Foghat, was mentioned positively in many viewer remarks. Said one 50+ female, "Didn't know the origin of Chili's. Loved ‘Slow Ride.’ Took me back to my single days in the 70's." A 21-35-year-old female commented, "I like the sense of nostalgia in this ad. I knew the music, and I liked the vintage look of the footage."

We recently took a look back at the top Breakthrough ads of the second quarter this year and found that emotion ruled the day. Ads that were truly breaking through with consumers were found to be highly sentimental, nostalgic and heartwarming. Chili’s latest offering, though not overtly emotional, delivers on nostalgia in an evocative way. While food ads often drive the basic emotion of hunger, bringing out words like "yummy," "delicious" and "appetizing" in high degrees, "Chilin’ "is described more often as "cool," "interesting" and "awesome." These words are reflective of being attention-grabbing, and though the Ad Personality appears low in Attention, it is simply overpowered by Desire. In truth, the ad does hook viewers.

Supporting "Chilin’" are two ads that also performed quite well, with tie-ins to the ‘70s and more current trend of sustainable, organic eating. "Grass Fed Burgers," an homage to the "hamburger hippies," and the deal-based "3 For Me Burgers," scored 638 and 624, respectively.

Nice work by Chili’s and Hill Holiday in delivering something new and different in a very competitive category, and in achieving their campaign goals.

Jason Zazzi is vice president of marketing for Ace Metrix.

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