The most clever restaurant commercials now airing don’t seek to offend any nationality, don’t make inappropriate appeals to children and don’t even ask celebrities to provocatively drip sauce on their legs. They don’t appeal to (or appear to have been written by) adolescents, and the object of their sarcasm is restaurant advertising itself.
The advertising is for Chili’s Grill & Bar, which this week introduced its “10 under $7″ menu, a collection of budget-priced entrees such as its Oldtimer burger, Cajun Chicken Pasta, Quesadillas with Salad and Big Mouth Bites mini burgers.
More satisfying than any of those entrees, however, is the multimedia campaign for Chili’s created by Boston-based agency Hill Holliday (which also handles Dunkin’ Donuts). Rather than filling 30 seconds with fast-edit glimpses of gloppy, cheesy food and giggling diners (yes, like Applebee’s ads), Hill Holliday creates a fictional casual-dining chain called P.J. Bland’s, where the food is made from “a proprietary base material” (i.e. cardboard). One of the five spots slams competitors’ burgers, and to diners who say their food has no taste, P.J. responds “You’re welcome” as he wanders through the dining room.
P.J. Bland’s’ tagline is “Stuff to Eat Right Up the Street,” which hits just the right vapid, casual-dining tone of over-the-hill hipness. The fictional chain has its own Web site where the commercials can be viewed and where you can read the menu. I’m having the Bland O’Plenty Chicken Platter.
Chili’s–like most other mid-price, casual-dining chains–needs to get its sales geared up. Parent Brinker International’s preliminary report on first-quarter revenues wasn’t very rosy. The 1,478-store Chili’s chain’s same-store sales were down 5.2% for the quarter, compared with a 1.6% gain for the year-earlier quarter.