Q&A: How Denny’s Advertising Is Embracing Inclusivity as More Than a Buzzword

3 agencies prioritized diversity in new 'See You at Denny's' campaign

Denny's sees itself as a place "where people of all backgrounds, races and religions can come together." Denny's
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Imagine people of every stripe gathered under one roof, hanging out and enjoying themselves, breaking bread and making memories. Is it a pipe dream in today’s divisive climate or a retail marketer’s version of utopia?

It’s neither, say executives at Denny’s, who are launching a new campaign today that features an inclusive lineup—both in front of and behind the camera—and touts its heritage as “America’s diner.”

At a time when everything is political and advertising is closely dissected for potential tone-deafness on one the hand or overt pandering on the other, Denny’s execs decided to put out a message they think reflects the everyday reality of the fast-casual chain and one they consider “emotional and unifying.”

“It’s so what this country wants right now,” says John Dillon, Denny’s chief brand officer. “Bringing people together is not a risk. Everybody wants it. And we want to be on the forefront of that movement. It’s so natural for us, for our brand purpose and our DNA.”

The theme of togetherness extended behind the scenes in the work itself, which was produced by three agencies. “Each partner was able to flex their unique points of view, beyond just casting, to create a consistent language,” says EP+Co president and CCO Con Williamson.

Dillon, who has led a dramatic transformation at the restaurant over the past decade, spoke with Adweek about trying to reach lapsed customers, collaborating with multiple agencies and creating the commercial equivalent of comfort food under the tagline, “See you at Denny’s.”

Adweek: Tell us about the context for this campaign.
John Dillon, chief brand officer, Denny’s: We’re in the middle innings of the brand turnaround, and we think we continue to have a powerful story to tell. We’ve had eight straight years of positive sales, with 98% brand awareness. About 95% of the population has been to a Denny’s. Most CMOs would do backflips at those numbers. But we still have lapsed users, people who haven’t been to a Denny’s lately, and they don’t know the changes we’ve made to our menu, our locations, our service. So we want to take our story to the next level and tell more about who we are from an emotional standpoint.

How does “See you at Denny’s” convey the brand’s personality?
We’re uniquely positioned in the restaurant space. We’re a place where people of all backgrounds, races and religions can come together, be themselves and make connections. We recognized inclusion before it was a buzzword. It’s part of the fabric of our success. We’re leaning into our position as America’s diner and bringing it more overtly forward than we have before.

Who are the architects of the campaign?
It comes from Fluent360, Conill and EP+Co, and we think it’s very cohesive and feels like one campaign, expressed in nuanced ways. It captures today’s modern American family, which is multicultural. And we used a female-owned production company, Epoch Films, and diverse crews. It will run in general market and targeted media, television, digital and social, along with a heavy rotation of food and value ads.

How does an uplifting message help Denny’s compete for consumer attention? And what’s next for your marketing?
The star of one of the spots, the young lady at the table, is the recipient of our Hungry for Education scholarship. She’s a student at Spelman College, and she’ll be in our social, digital and PR push. We’ve raised more than $200,000 for that program. So we’ve woven that human interest story into the campaign. And the goal for it, overall, is to show the warmth and connection of a diner, what people love and how Denny’s makes them feel, which we think speaks to both existing and lapsed users. Next, we’ll be using digital and social to bring some diner conversations to life, and in mid-May, we’ll have a branded content series from SoulPancake under the “See you at Denny’s” banner.


Agency EP+Co
President/Chief Creative Officer: Con Williamson
EVP, Executive Creative Director: Mike Lear
Associate Creative Director, Art: Rachel Hogan
Associate Creative Director, Copy: Mary Money
Art Director: Claire Barnette
Copywriter: Greg Seles
SVP, Director of Content Production: Danny Miller
VP, Executive Content Producer: Charlotte Stirrup
Content Producer: Rachel Rawlinson
VP, Business Affairs Manager: Jeff Fischer
SVP, Managing Director: Karen Mawhinney
Account Director: Jenny-Lee Maxwell
Senior Account Managers: Elisa Taneyhill, Emilee Abercrombie

Client: Denny’s
SVP, Chief Brand Officer: John Dillon
VP, Brand Engagement: Erik Jensen
Director, Culinary Innovation: Scott Richard

Production Company: EPOCH FILMS, LA
Director: Zachary Heinzerling
Director of Photography: Chris Mably
Executive Producer: Melissa Culligan
Head of Production: Megan Murphree
Line Producer: Sheena Dolce

Edit House: EP+Co
Senior Editor: Brian Cooper

Color: The Mill
Colorist: Mikey Rossiter

Original Music: Future Perfect
Composer/Partner: Victor Magro
Producer: Nargis Sheerazie

Audio Mix: Sonic Union
Sound Engineer: David Papa

Alex Fino, Managing Director
Jaclyn Cruz, Account Director
Tamika Robinson, Account Supervisor
Jose Suaste, Executive Creative Director
Derrick Webb, Associate Creative Director
Marshon Rogers, Copywriter
Mary Gutierrez, Copywriter
Corey Richardson, VP Cultural Learning & Insights
Helena Berhane, Strategic Planner

Conill Advertising:
Krysta Rosales – Associate Director of Broadcast Production
Tricia Barreiro – Social Producer
Benjamin Levy – Associate Creative Director
Suhey Saldarriaga – Sr. Art Director
Jaime Cerda – Sr. Copywriter
Nelly Acevedo – Group Account Director
Nancy Diaz – Management Supervisor
Maggie Corleto – Account Coordinator
Martin Cerri – Group Creative Director
Valentina Dostal – Business Affairs Director
Production Company – Black Van Films
Emiliano Cruz Lopez – Director
Mauricio Osorio – Executive Producer
Pavel Cantú – Executive Director
Ariel Dress – Creative Producer
Miguel Navarro – Producer
Editor – Blind Bit / Parana
Sebastian Leda – Executive Producer
Prod. CO. Services MX –  Roots
Alejandro Rossi – Executive Producer
Iván Lomelí – Executive Producer
Karina Álvarez – Producer
Itzel Miranda – AD

@TLStanleyLA terry.stanley@adweek.com T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.