Propaganda Shows Skin for Bennigan’s

CHICAGO Bennigan’s Grill & Tavern is breaking out of the me-too mode with a $10 million-plus ad campaign designed to make the chain “hip, cooler and more clever,” according to the new head marketer behind the effort.

Internally, the company has dubbed 2006 “The return to cool.” Television, radio and outdoor ads touting the brand’s 30th anniversary use “We refuse to act our age” as a theme.

Clay Dover, the new vp of marketing who came over from Steak and Ale last October, said in the past the chain was “just like everybody else” in the category, which is dominated by Applebee’s and TGI Friday’s. “It’s a challenge because I can’t compete in advertising dollar for dollar [with] them,” he said.

So, Bennigan’s is trying a new tack: humor. The first new ad, via Propaganda, St. Louis, promotes its new potato skins. Voiceover: “We thought we’d get your attention by showing you some skin.” A chicken wings ad says: “Tell your mouth to stop being such a pansy.” Said Dover: “We want people to do a double-take.” The new potato skins, which include ranch and barbecue chicken versions, are examples of the twist the heritage menu items are getting. In addition, the Monte Cristo will now be available in a Cuban version.

The campaign will air during the Academy Awards telecast, Survivor and other programs.

Beginning this week, restaurant staff will wear “Leprechaun rights” T-shirts as part of a St. Patrick’s Day promo that dangles a six-day trip to Ireland.

Bennigan’s spent $1.2 million on measured media last year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Sales have been up 5 percent since November, per the company. “Nothing we’re doing is revolutionary,” said Dover. “But it’s a step in the right direction.”