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‘Continue to ebb and flow over time’: Denny’s chief brand officer on how consumers’ moods inform brand messaging

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‘Continue to ebb and flow over time’: Denny’s chief brand officer on how consumers’ moods inform brand messaging

September 16, 2021 by Kristina Monllos

Despite hopes for a return to normal, it looks like flexibility will continue to be key for marketers this fall. At least — that’s the case for diner chain Denny’s, according to chief brand officer and executive vp John Dillon.

Digiday caught up with Dillon to understand how he’s thinking about marketing now, what changes stay past COVID-19 and how the brand is thinking about working with college athletes.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Earlier this year, there was a sense that business would go back to “normal.” With the delta variant, that hasn’t been the case. How are you thinking about marketing now? 

“Flexibility” is definitely still a keyword in our plans. Because of the dynamic nature of marketing today, the ability and necessity to really turn on a dime sometimes [means you need that flexibility]. Right? We’re watching at all times for what’s happening with the COVID-19 and the variants and how guests are feeling in a restaurant. We really have been focused on consumer needs of value, comfort, convenience and reassurance. 

What do you mean by “reassurance”? 

Reassurance really emerged from the pandemic. What we mean by that is making sure that guests know that it’s safe to eat at Denny’s, all [the] cleanliness matters that we’re going through. And that was never part of our team’s plans before, but it has definitely been part of our marketing plan over the last 18 months. That’s one example. Another is value. Value’s not as important to today’s guest as it has been, but that will continue to ebb and flow over time. Really it is about flexibility. It’s keeping your head on [a] swivel and making sure you stay in tune to what your guests need and, in our case, what our franchisees need to run their business and run it well. I think that [need for] flexibility will continue outside of the pandemic. 

Building in flexibility into deals and having back-up plans does seem like something that sticks long after the pandemic. 

That’s one of the most exciting things about being in marketing right now — we have plans and we have backup plans. We have backup to backup plans based on what’s happening in the marketplace, what’s happening to the guests and the mindset of the guests and where the virus is at. It’s challenging, but also very exciting for marketers to really capitalize on the tools at their disposal today. 

How do you balance meeting consumers where they’re at — i.e. “reassurance” messaging — with brand needs? 

No matter what brand you are, people need to know that you understand their safety is a top priority. So many brands are spending time on that in various ways through the pandemic. My philosophy is this is not going to go away once we’re out of COVID. I think consumer behavior and expectations have changed. They’re always going to want to know that safety and sanitation procedures are being taken. This is something brands will have to work in their toolkit, so to speak, with messaging and push and pull depending on consumer dynamics at the time. So it just adds another element. 

Earlier this summer, the name, image and likeness ruling by the NCAA allowed brands to start to work with college athletes. Tell us how you’re thinking about that shift. 

When it first was announced, I think all brands, and I would say all colleges, all players, were trying to figure out what that means and what is the best way to enact the ability to use a name, image, likeness with brands. What we wanted to do is make sure if we did it, we did it in a genuine way with something that made sense for our brand and also made sense for the players that we work with. So it’s not as simple as just paying a player money but more of, can you do something that works for your brand and works for that particular individual and make it a win-win situation? And that’s why, and, and like I said before, how do we do it in a way that is a little bit different than what you see from others by creating this team [of athletes for Denny’s] and bringing people together, which is part of our branding.

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‘She-Hulk’ Release Schedule: When Does Episode 9 Hit Disney Plus?

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‘She-Hulk’ Release Schedule: When Does Episode 9 Hit Disney Plus?

The current Marvel series dropping weekly episodes on Disney Plus is almost over. She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is a half-hour scripted comedy about Jennifer Walters (played by the incredible Tatiana Maslany), the Hulk’s equally green cousin.

The first season consists of nine episodes. Six are directed by Kat Coiro and the other three by Anu Valia, with Jessica Gao as head writer. Originally, She-Hulk was set to take over Ms. Marvel’s Wednesday release spot, but the episodes instead arrive each Thursday (probably because Star Wars series Andor took over the Wednesday slot).

Exact She-Hulk episode release dates and times

Here are the exact episode release times.

The first smashing trailer

After a teaser that well and truly teased us (by not showing She-Hulk’s face), Marvel dropped the first official trailer on May 17. This time we see what She-Hulk will look like in her awesome green glory.

She-Hulk also stars Mark Ruffalo, Benedict Wong and Tim Roth, who starred as the main antagonist in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. Ginger Gonzaga, Josh Segarra, Jameela Jamil, Jon Bass and Renée Elise Goldsberry are also part of the cast.

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First Super Mario Bros. Trailer Is Here: You Can Finally Hear Chris Pratt

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First Super Mario Bros. Trailer Is Here: You Can Finally Hear Chris Pratt

It’s-a him. Chris Pratt as Mario in the movie. OK, so co-producer Chris Meledandri confirmed back in 2021 that Pratt wasn’t going to use the stereotyped voice of the video game plumber in the upcoming animated Mario film. But on Thursday, Nintendo dropped a highly anticipated teaser trailer for The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and Pratt revealed, kind of, the voice he did choose.

Honestly, the much-anticipated Pratt-as-Mario voice was kind of a letdown. There’s … maybe a faint bit of Italian accent in the few lines Pratt speaks? Or is he just using his normal voice? Pratt’s Mario mostly just reacts to getting the wind knocked out of him as he heads off on his Mushroom Kingdom adventure. 

Sure, there was no way Pratt was going to use the exaggerated, stereotypical voice, but so little of him can actually be heard in the teaser it’s tough to say how his Mario will sound. He doesn’t deliver any of Mario’s famed catchphrases — no “It’s-a me, Mario” or “Wahoo!” Maybe more will be revealed when a longer trailer comes along. Regardless, there’s a better chance to hear some of Jack Black’s Bowser (he’s excellent) and a good look at the vibrant animation.

It’s-a disappointing

Fans were underwhelmed by Pratt’s voice, or at least what we got to hear of it.

“Everything in the Mario movie trailer looks and sounds absolutely great…except for Chris Pratt’s voice lol,” one viewer tweeted.

Pratt reminded one viewer of Ratso Rizzo in 1969’s Midnight Cowboy. “It was like four words, but I definitely got Dustin Hoffman ‘I’m WALKIN HEAH!’ vibes.”

And another person summed it up nicely, writing, “It’s not similar to Mario. It’s not similar to Mario’s vibe. It’s not even similar to the live action movie version. Just Chris Pratt sounding a little confused.”

everything in the Mario movie trailer looks and sounds absolutely great…except for Chris Pratt’s voice lol

— Matt Binder (@MattBinder) October 6, 2022

It was like four words, but I definitely got Dustin Hoffman “I’m WALKIN HEAH!” vibes.

— Evil Bilbo (@evilbilboxbl) October 6, 2022

It’s not similar to Mario. It’s not similar to Mario’s vibe. It’s not even similar to the live action movie version. Just Chris Pratt sounding a little confused

— JStack (@JStackTV) October 6, 2022

“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to be Mario,” Pratt says in a video clip preceding the trailer, relating how he played Mario games on a machine at his childhood laundromat. Good to know, but the jury is still out on how that dream will become a reality. 

And after the trailer was published, Pratt tweeted about it, writing, “After playing the games for years as a kid (and adult) I’m excited to bring Mario to all of you! Enjoy!”

The trailer did reveal Jack Black as Bowser, and Keegan-Michael Key as Toad. But some fans were disappointed that the clip didn’t include a clip of Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong, especially the actor’s infamous laugh.

“My only complaint is that we didn’t get to see Seth Rogen’s Donkey Kong voice let alone SOME form of laughter,” one fan wrote.

The Mario movie was set to come out in late 2022 but is now scheduled for release on April 7, 2023. 

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How marketers are tailoring data-driven creative to engage audiences on CTV

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How marketers are tailoring data-driven creative to engage audiences on CTV

As the end of the year approaches and marketing teams look to finalize their 2023 budgets, many are wondering how to ensure their ads are set up for success in the months ahead, appealing to unique audiences whose media consumption habits continue to evolve. 

Advances in programmatic technology and data targeting have made it possible to reach these audiences with precision and at scale, serving ads that showcase the products and services they’re most interested in — be it on their desktop, mobile or CTV devices. But something the industry doesn’t always discuss during the campaign planning process is how creative contributes to campaign goals and directly impacts consumers. 

Nielsen found that creative is the top driver of a brand’s in-market success — up to 80% in traditional TV and 89% in digital advertising. And there are ways to ensure that creative speaks not only to viewers’ collective interests but to their nuanced interests as individuals in a non-invasive, privacy-conscious way. Using existing creative — in other words, not reinventing the wheel — marketers are taking steps to boost engagement, enhance brand awareness and achieve personalization on a greater and increasingly sophisticated level. 

Making video ads actionable

Actionable creative encourages viewers to engage and interact with brands on a one-to-one level. For marketing teams, QR codes are proving an effective way to elevate this engagement, especially in the advanced TV space. For video ads produced without a QR code, these can be added as an overlay, branded frame around the video or an end card.

In essence, QR codes mirror the strategies of clickable ads in desktop or mobile environments, pushing consumers to take action and moving them through the marketing funnel (i.e., “scan to add to cart”). Not every viewer will scan the code, but even an incremental uptick in engagement is a powerful one. QR codes are an opportunity to place a brand in the palm of a consumer’s hand.

Given the proliferation of smart speakers and voice assistants (estimated to be present in approximately 95 million US households), voice-to-action commands are another way advertisers are motivating viewers to act while watching ads. By suggesting that viewers “Ask Alexa to do X” — via branded frames or end cards, for instance — marketers empower consumers to purchase a product, book a test drive and more. 

Keep branding front and center

It’s one thing to serve impressions; it’s another for a brand to make an impression that drives campaign results. And without robust and well-placed branding, it’s near impossible to ensure viewers will remember a brand. 

Video ads are increasingly cinematic, which, while entertaining, doesn’t automatically ensure the successful delivery of marketing goals and KPIs. If a viewer isn’t paying full attention to an ad for the full 15 to 30 seconds, they might entirely miss what the brand is, thus limiting brand recognition and recall. 

When crafting creative (for CTV or otherwise) — even a more out-of-the-box, entertaining ad — successful marketing teams often place a small logo in the corner of the screen. The effect can somewhat interrupt the cinematic tone of the ad, but it ensures that consumers know which brand is speaking to them.  

Developing dynamic creative to fine-tune targeting

Different audiences have different needs and therefore benefit from seeing different versions of a message. Not every brand has the budget to adapt its creative to every audience and screen, but many have found cost-effective ways to do this. One technique is dynamic video creative, in which one video is modified to become more personalized to each individual in a target audience, depending on the campaign strategy.

For example, historically, a local tourism board running a summer road trip campaign promoting travel to various destinations and attractions across a state has created a traditional TV spot to show off these destinations. However, if the tourism board wants to reach viewers on a more intimate — but also more programmatic — level, then dynamic video creative and data can turn the ad creative into thousands of iterations for all screens. In this way, they reach viewers with messages molded to their interests, needs and physical locations. The outcome is that adventure enthusiasts learn about destinations for mountain biking, and families with small children are shown amusement parks within driving distance, for instance.

These practices help marketers drive awareness, engagement and action at little to no added expense, ultimately ensuring a brand speaks to audiences in the most powerful, most convincing way. Creative may be king, but these simple techniques are the kingmakers; coupled with data and technology, they’re more achievable than ever. 

Sponsored by: Tremor

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