Burger Joints Flip You Off? CiCi’s Has A Nicer Idea

Looking to present itself as a friendly, family-style alternative to less welcoming fast-food burger joints, CiCi’s Pizza breaks its first major branding effort today with a $14 million campaign that offers an “investigative” look at some competitors.

The work, by Interpublic Group’s Deutsch/LA, comprises three 15-second and three 30-second TV spots. They open with shots of a “stereotypical” hamburger outlet as seen in the harsh black-and-white light of a security camera. The spots cut to a CiCi’s for the colorful contrast of gregarious servers tending to seated customers, emphasizing the theme, “They have their way … we have ours.”

Reality-style dialogue peppers the burger scenario. In “One Register,” a teenage worker pulls some customers who are waiting in a queue toward him—then says he’s on break. In another spot, a burger customer drops a soda, and a teen yells for a mop-up with the insult, “Some old guy just spilled his drink everywhere.” In a third, a teen accidentally pushes a sales key on the register, then tries to persuade a customer to spend an extra 50 cents for a double burger.

“We used the ‘caught-on-tape, Channel 9-investigates-fast-food’ style,” said Steve Skibba, svp, associate creative director at Deutsch/LA in Marina del Rey, Calif., who teamed with svp, associate creative director Vinny Picardi on the spots. “The unvarnished truth of what really goes down in fast food is funny enough.”

Skibba said the brief was simple. “CiCi’s goes to extraordinary lengths to see that you have an enjoyable experience,” he said. “Massive fast-food chains don’t give a rat’s ass.”

Tom Koenigsberg, chief marketing officer of Coppel, Texas-based CiCi’s—whose sales grew 13.5 percent to $379 million last year, according to research firm Technomic in Chicago—said the spots intend not only to build awareness but also to “help people contextualize the brand.

“This is the first campaign that really starts to position this business as a brand,” Koenigsberg added. While the goal of the chain, which has 485 restaurants in more than 20 states, is to become national, focus groups didn’t like more direct comparisons. “They don’t want you to name names,” said Koenigsberg. “Besides, that’s not our personality.”

CiCi’s spent about $10 million on measured media in 2002 and 2003, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, and will spend about $14 million on this campaign, said Koenigsberg. The spots are set to run until year’s end.

“I don’t see any barriers to CiCi’s reaching their goals other than by things they can control themselves,” said Dennis Lombardi, evp at Technomic, though he cited pizza’s status as a “relatively mature segment” of the food market.

Deutsch won the business in February. Advertising had been in-house.

“The old campaign simply stressed all-you-can-eat,” said Koenigsberg. “It was standard retail bite-and-smile. Not a bad thing, but it didn’t present the whole product. We needed to stay with the rational and add in the emotional benefits.”