3 restaurant advertising encores

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Wendy's, Sonic, and Little Caesar's have all brought back old ads

If new TV commercials from Little Caesars, Wendy’s and Sonic feel familiar, then those restaurant chains have succeeded in leveraging either nostalgia or more recent equity from effective ads to create marketing campaigns that stand out, experts said.

Each of the brands has chosen to reprise different elements from previous campaigns: Little Caesars this week brought back its “Pizza! Pizza!” tagline and cartoon character; Wendy’s reused its “Where’s the Beef?” slogan and called upon Wendy Thomas to put her family back in focus; and Sonic rehired its two “spokesdudes,” T.J. and Pete, for a new round of humorous commercials.

The chains are hoping to spur a second round of sales success with these campaigns. Restaurant marketing expert Dan Dahlen said the correct adage for this trend is not necessarily “what’s old is new again,” but rather, “what’s worked before will work again.”

“What many brands are doing now is taking a look at their historical performance, seeing the peaks and valleys in sales, and asking, ‘When sales spiked here, what did we have on the air?’” said Dahlen, former marketing executive at Wendy’s and Shoney’s, and founder of Columbus, Ohio-based Dahlen Communications.

He added that many successful ad campaigns end their run too soon because of “boardroom wear-out,” when chain executives and franchisees get tired of the creative long before customers do. “There’s a perception, driven internally or by the ad agency, that we need to get fresh copy on the air — but what’s running still has plenty of firepower," explained Dahlen. "You need patience for success in the restaurant industry, and QSR just doesn’t have any of it.”

Dahlen and other marketing experts analyze the nostalgic ad campaigns from Little Caesars, Wendy’s and Sonic.

First: Little Caesars