Top restaurant commercials of the year


The restaurant industry’s most effective advertisers broke out from the pack in 2011 with creative commercials that helped casual-dining, quick-service and pizza chains grab viewers’ attention, according to a year-end study by marketing research firm Ace Metrix.

The top 10 casual-dining, quick-service and pizza TV spots all earned Ace Scores higher than the restaurant industry’s yearlong average of 571 out of a possible 950, according to Jack McKee, the Los Angeles-based company’s vice president. In casual dining, top commercials based on surveyed scores went to campaigns that used “real people,” whether veterans or chefs. In quick service, which included pizza delivery chains, top commercials focused on price points and humor.

Ace Metrix calculates Ace Scores by combining survey respondents’ ratings of how persuasive and watchable commercials are, while also accounting for individual metrics, like brands’ likeability, their food’s desirability and their ability to grab attention.

Serious tone helps casual brands

In casual dining, putting a personal spin on advertising paid off for several brands. While Olive Garden’s straightforward commercial for its Half Panini Lunch took the segment’s top spot, five other commercials in the top 10 focused on real people rather than food in efforts to connect with guests on an emotional level.

Four Applebee’s commercials made the top 10 list, and three honored real people. The chain’s November spot honoring veterans earned the casual-dining segment’s second-highest score. Its three other ads came in seventh, eighth and ninth, with one commercial for its Sizzling Entrees and two ads in which research and development chefs Jason Amell and Shannon Johnson discussed their passion for creating the chain’s menu.

Watch Applebee’s Veterans Day commercial; story continues below

Honoring the military in November for Veteran’s Day, or the country near the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, was a smart branding move for restaurants and other advertisers this year, McKee said. Applebee’s and Golden Corral had the Nos. 2 and 3 highest-ranked commercials in casual dining with Veterans Day spots. But the top spots did have some tradeoffs, McKee said. While their “likeability” ratings among survey respondents were significantly higher than other brands’ results, the desire to eat the restaurants’ food significantly ranked lower than that of other brands.

“People like these brands [after watching Veterans’ Day commercials], but they don’t necessarily want to go out and get the product,” McKee said. “The emotional connection of these ‘I’m so passionate’ ads resonated so well because it shows that brands are thinking differently about how to connect to their guests.”

The 10 highest-scoring casual-dining ads took various approaches, he added, as the personal commercials highlighting real people also share the list with commercials for new products like the Half Panini Lunch and Baked Pasta Romana at Olive Garden, Lobster Stuffed Filet at LongHorn Steakhouse, and Sizzling Entrees at Applebee’s.

“Any time you can achieve high likeability, it’s great for the brand,” McKee said. “Having that mosaic of different types of creative to reach customers in the right way is very important.”

Watch Olive Garden’s commercial; story continues below