DALLAS-Utilizing the humor of a rising sitcom actor, Hadeler Sullivan Ewing here is working to re-brand Tony Roma's Famous for Ribs away from its "stuffy" image in a new campaign breaking in 15 markets this week.
Four new 30-second spots feature Ken Marino, slated as a new co-star in NBC's Men Behaving Badly, and will debut the casual dining chain's attempt to emerge as a "hip, cool place to eat" for the 25-54 category, according to the agency.
Despite strong sales results seen during 1995-96 advertising, Tony Roma's marketing was challenged by focus-group findings that rendered the chain as a special-occasion, male-oriented restaurant even to rib lovers, according to HSE.
"What we found out was that people had tremendous [misconceptions] of the concept," said HSE account supervisor Kim Hart. "Some people even thought the concept was Italian because of the name, colors and decor."
In the ads, Marino, formerly of MTV's The Slate comedy series, is featured as an in-your-face congenital liar who pitches Tony Roma's menu items ˆ la former ad icon Joe Isuzu-except he admits he is fibbing. For instance, he promises $1 million to ribs connoisseurs who stop in at Tony Roma's, and guarantees their IQ will shoot up 300 points after a serving. All lies, admits Marino, but he maintains the ribs are great.
Hart said HSE cast in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York for the lead in the commercials before selecting Marino, who helped develop the liar character and shares copywriting credits with the agency's Stuart Feigley and Richard LeBlanc. Feigley and Tom Marcantel were co-creative directors.
Besides the 15 markets where Dallas-based Tony Roma's has company-owned restaurants, the commercials will be made available to 31 franchisee areas as well as 19 international settings. The TV work, taglined "Famous for ribs for 25 years," will be complemented by print, radio and outdoor.
HSE also handles promotions for Tony Roma's. Media is parceled out regionally by the client and its franchisees.