Archer>Malmo Serves Deli Testimonials

ATLANTA In its first television campaign for McAlister’s Deli, archer>malmo lets the customers do all the talking.

Three 30-second spots from the Memphis, Tenn., shop broke this week on cable channels in the Jackson, Miss., market. Ads show patrons speaking directly to the camera in 20-second monologues that highlight the quick-casual chain’s selling points: sweet iced tea, a bountiful menu and attentive service.

“We thought, let’s decide what makes it special from the point of view of those who are already familiar with McAlister’s. For those who are not familiar, it suggests via fans that the restaurant has something special going for it,” said Gary Backaus, agency principal and creative director.

What distinguishes quick-casual dining is its combination of a fast-food structure (customers order and pay first) with attentive table service (waiters bring drink refills, food and extras throughout the meal.) Industry observers from the National Restaurant Association’s research and information services division view the category as a growing segment of the market.

With 100-plus restaurants in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas, McAlister’s competes with chains such as McDonald’s-owned Chipotle of Denver and Panera Bread Company in Richmond Heights, Mo. Baja Fresh, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif., is one of the leaders in this emerging restaurant concept. The Mexican eatery has 151 units (half company owned and half franchisees) in 14 states.

Backaus said the TV commercials draw viewers in with the slow-paced delivery of, for example, a man extolling his love of great iced tea. Quick music and rapid close-ups of menu items ranging from sandwiches and side orders to desserts and cookies follow each testimonial. Each spot ends with a shot of the chain’s famous iced tea.

It’s the sweet iced tea that Backaus said the agency wanted to turn into a kind of logo for the Ridgeland, Miss.-based chain. “I don’t know how the tea got to be so important, but it was natural to capitalize on it,” he said. “It’s what people already know about the brand.”

Radio will air later this summer. A full media plan is expected to roll out in additional Southeast and Midwest markets in early 2004, following input by franchisees. Billings are estimated at $3-4 million.