Smashburger Debuts First Widescale Marketing Push

Smashburger is launching its first major branding campaign after growing to 160 restaurants in just five years, marketing itself mostly through social media, local marketing and word of mouth.

The fast-casual chain will make its broadcast debut with radio spots in several markets starring a new brand character, the Smashburger Burger Smasher. The campaign also incorporates the Denver-based brand's new logo and new tagline: "Smashed fresh. Served delicious."

Still relatively young — the first restaurant opened in Denver in 2007 — Smashburger has identified branding as its top marketing priority, said Jeremy Morgan, the chain's senior vice president of marketing and consumer insights.

"The spots came about because, as a five-year-old chain, our biggest opportunity is to tell customers who we are and what makes us special," he said.

Smashburger's first foray into broadcast advertising would not signal any pull-back from social media, he added. The chain simultaneously launched a game on its Burger Smasher microsite in order to "use social media as the primary vehicle as to why smashing is better," he said.

"We're still very committed to social media and local-store marketing as a very big part of our marketing mix, and a big chunk of the campaign is exactly that," Morgan said. "But it's really useful to have a single creative theme to galvanize our franchise and corporate markets across the country. We wanted to be able to tell consumers about what makes us great and why smashing is better. The Burger Smasher himself is perfect to tell that story."

Morgan said about one-third of the chain's locations are located in marketing areas that would be supported with radio. The 60-second spots were tested in built-out markets like Denver and Minneapolis; Tulsa, Okla.; Boise, Idaho; Omaha, Neb.; and Des Moines, Iowa. The commercials currently are running in New Jersey and Atlanta, with additional flights planned later this year for Denver, Houston and Boise.

"Our unaided awareness is maybe 25 percent in best-case scenarios where we are, like in Denver, where we're truly five years old," Morgan said. "In Los Angeles, we're two weeks old, and in Chicago we're one-and-a-half years old. So there is a lot of white space to drive awareness."

The point behind the ad campaign is simply to drive trial and repeat traffic from those new customers, he said, rather than to start drawing comparisons among Smashburger and quick-service chains or other fast-casual better burger players like Five Guys.

"We're pulling from a wide variety of competitors, so it's an awareness game," he said. "We haven't put a bull's eye on any specific competitor, because at this stage that's not the biggest opportunity for us."

Denver-based agency Cactus, which won Smashburger's account in December 2010, developed the spots.

Smashburger operates or franchises restaurants in 27 states.

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