Sizzler Tries To Rekindle Fire With Younger Diners

Steak-and-buffet restaurant chain Sizzler tries to inspire passion for its food in a younger audience while continuing to emphasize value in a campaign from independent Kovel/Fuller that breaks today.

The package kicks off an effort to “reintroduce Sizzler to a big audience and brand [the chain] as current,” said Lee Kovel, chief creative officer of the Culver City, Calif.-based agency. The campaign, which emphasizes product development, value and service, is tagged, “Your Sizzler today. Great idea.”

The initial spot opens with a neatly dressed couple in their kitchen, absentmindedly watching TV and reading the newspaper until a commercial for Sizzler’s new shrimp-and-steak platter transports the man into a dreamlike state. Lilting, romantic music plays as he runs along a pristine beach toward his true love: a six-foot shrimp, its spindly arms outstretched and inviting. The dream suddenly fades, but the reality turns out to be even more appetizing, as the camera cuts to close-up shots of an economically priced shrimp cocktail and steak.

“It’s a little irreverent [and] attention-grabbing,” said Mike Branigan, vp of marketing for Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Sizzler USA. The target is consumers aged 18 to 34, as well as children of baby boomers who may recall the chain from their youth.

Kovel/Fuller’s previous work for the restaurant re-created a 1986 Sizzler spot originally done by BBDO in an effort to attract adults who once frequented the chain with their parents. It focused on the salad bar and the food’s value, and used the tagline, “Steak, seafood, salad.”

That ad came during “eight straight months of product development, focus groups and research” leading to the new campaign, said Branigan, who joined the company in January 2004. “It’s really very analytical.”

According to Chicago restaurant consultancy Technomic, Sizzler is No. 4 in the family steak house category with 2003 sales of $332 million, well behind leader Golden Corral’s $1.3 billion (that chain has 500 outlets); other ranked restaurants included Ryan’s Steakhouse and Bonanza Steakhouse.

Sizzler, a subsidiary of Worldwide Restaurant Concepts, last May laid out plans to double the number of its restaurants to more than 500 in the next few years. While that will obviously boost sales, “the whole [buffet] category has not done as well as casual dining in the past year,” said Technomic president Ron Paul.

That is one reason Kovel/Fuller has crafted its campaign to target customers of full-service casual restaurants such as Outback, Red Lobster or Applebee’s, suggesting that Sizzler offers food of similar quality for less money, Kovel said.

Sizzler spent $12 million on advertising in 2003 and $10 million in 2002, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus. Neither the client nor agency would disclose the current campaign budget, but Branigan said spending will be increased from past years.

The first TV spot will run through February, followed by similar spots for other menu offerings. Print and outdoor executions will continue to focus on specific products and price promotions, Branigan said.

Media is handled by Interpublic Group’s Initiative, Los Angeles.