After 8 Years of ‘2 Guys’ Ads, Sonic Moves in a New Direction With Mother LA

But CMO says the long-running campaign will still 'be part of our brand going forward'

A hand holding Sonic tater tots pushing the tater tots on to a tray
Sonic's first campaign from Mother L.A. focuses on real customers and their everyday experiences with the chain. Sonic
Headshot of T.L. Stanley

Follow some real folks to Sonic, and you’ll find that they’re treating themselves for small milestones or satisfying a fried potato craving. They could be debating the finer points of modern slang, lovingly harassing their siblings or doing whatever else people do in the confines of a car on the way to get a fast food meal.

In its first ad campaign from the chain’s new agency, Mother Los Angeles, the heartland-based Sonic takes a fly-on-the-wall approach, casting its own fans, not actors, and capturing their unscripted conversations.

The ads, launching nationally next week, are a departure from Goodby Silverstein & Partners’ long-running “Two Guys” campaign, with comedians Peter Grosz and T.J. Jagodowski (plus occasional guest stars).

That dialogue-driven campaign will continue in some form, the brand says, but the new spots are spiritual cousins in their big-tent, populist message.

“We see ourselves as part of the fabric of consumers’ lives, and they’re the fabric of America,” said Lori Abou Habib, the chain’s CMO. “We’re celebrating that intersection.”

Mother L.A. took a page from reality TV in gathering hundreds of hours of footage of eight groups of Sonic fans. Those people, from suburban towns like Duarte, Calif.; Peabody, Mass.; and Franklin, Tenn., answered local casting calls and agreed to be filmed on their Sonic runs. (Though sometimes given product-specific prompts, they were mostly left to their own devices on their in-transit actions and chatter, Habib said.)

The result is a pair of TV spots that will introduce the various families and groups of friends, who will pop up again in future marketing, Habib said.

“We want guests to see themselves reflected in our ads,” she said. “And the point is to show real moments and real conversations.”

The hero 60-second ad, “One Day,” crosses the country to show the breadth of the chain, with locations in 46 states, and snapshots of some slices of life (a kid tasting his first pickle on a burger or a mom grabbing breakfast on the go for her athlete daughter, for example). It’s meant to convey the “infinite variety” of occasions that drive people to the brand.

Tagline: “One day, many people, millions of orders. This is how we Sonic.”

Note: There’s a subtle but important change in that brand ID. It was formerly, “This is how you Sonic.” And the company has also redone its logo with a simplified design and red, white and blue color palette, another nod to Americana.

A 30-second spot called “Newer Day” homes in more specifically on the shared experience of grabbing food with your friends, teammates or family, shot “without scripts or preconceived themes,” Habib said. “They were just interacting with each other naturally, eating the food they wanted to eat.”

The seed of the campaign were sown in the pitch from Mother L.A., which won the brand’s business in August. Anomaly and CPB had also vied for the account. Sonic announced its review last spring, ending its eight-year relationship with Goodby Silverstein & Partners.

The agency switch came after Sonic was acquired in 2018 for $2.3 billion by Arby’s and Buffalo Wild Wings parent company Inspire Brands, and its longtime CEO stepped down. 

Mother L.A., whose new work will include broadcast ads, spots on cable, digital and social, plans to continue and broaden the current fan-centric campaign across media platforms. In a related promo, Sonic will drop limited-run seasonal swag boxes of curated, restaurant-themed goodies.

And for fans of “Two Guys,” don’t fret. They’re not retiring. “They’re a huge part of our voice,” Habib said, “and they’ll be part of our brand going forward.”

@TLStanleyLA 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.