Chuck E. Cheese's fights sales slump with mascot makeover

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CEC Entertainment Inc., parent to the Chuck E. Cheese’s family eats and entertainment chain, has given its signature mouse mascot a major facelift as it tackles first-quarter slippage of same-store sales.

In advertising that debuted nationally on Thursday, the new Chuck E. Cheese has grown slimmer, gained a guitar and become more rock star-like, getting a new singing and speaking voice from Jaret Reddick, the front man for the pop-punk band Bowling For Soup.

“Chuck E. is the hero at the heart of our restaurants,” said Scott McDaniel, chief marketing officer at Irving, Texas-based CEC Entertainment. “For the first time in years, we’re changing the way we communicate with our key patrons — kids.” The mouse mascot got his start 35 years ago as a New Jersey-styled rat that sometimes carried a cigar.

The first “Chuck E. Rocks” television ads were released Thursday featuring the post-makeover mouse singing lyrics such as, “Just grab all your friends and come out and play,” and the chorus and tagline, “Say cheese it's funner.”

The new tagline, the company said in a statement, “is an easy-to-sing-along-with summer jam that describes the way kids feel about hanging out with their friends and playing games at Chuck E. Cheese's — it's better than fun!”

Mike Magusiak, CEC’s president and chief executive, foreshadowed the mouse makeover on May 3, when the company reported first-quarter same-store sales were down 4.2 percent, compared to a positive 1.1 percent in same quarter a year before. He said in an earnings call with analysts that same-store sales were down 3.6 percent in January, up 4.4 percent in February and down 8.5 percent in March. April same-store sales were slightly positive, up 0.6 percent.

Magusiak said CEC was focusing on “reinvigorating the brand,” as well as reinvesting in the existing store base and adding new corporate stores in United States and franchised units internationally.

The base for the new “comprehensive marketing and advertising campaign,” he said, was research from the company’s new ad agency, The Richards Group of Dallas. He noted that through an “incredibly revealing process,” the agency found many mothers had a positive view of Chuck E. Cheese’s but many others “were unaware or had misperceptions” about the chain as a family experience. CEC hired The Richards Group in January.

“Over the last 35 years, we’ve changed and grown up alongside the families and the children who are our guests, and as we start to entertain the next generation of families we wanted Chuck E. to be relatable to both today’s children and their parents who grew up enjoying fun and games with us.” Ambur Evans, a media relations representative for the company, said in an email. “Chuck E.’s new style centers around his love for music to reflect that music unites families just like the cool, fun experience they share together in our stores."

Magusiak said that in addition to a newer look for Chuck E. Cheese, which includes television, print and digital advertising in July, the chain plans a re-engineered website in the fourth quarter and a campaign targeted at mothers in the first half of 2013.

The initial campaign includes four TV spots — “Belonging,” “Fun,” “Power” and “Birthdays” — each named for a child experience at Chuck E. Cheese’s, the company said.

Rhonda Zahnen, principal at The Richards Group, said in a statement: “It’s the perfect evolution of the brand and one that will speak directly to kids.”

CEC Entertainment owns, operates and franchises 554 Chuck E. Cheese’s units in 48 states and seven other nations and territories.

Contact Ron Ruggless at ronald.ruggless@penton.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless