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Chain LeaderEditorial Archives2003 — April — Storyboard

Gimme an O
O’Charley’s changes its tune to appear familiar, friendly and dependable.

O’Charley’s had an image problem. It wasn’t that consumers of the 184-unit casual-dining chain didn’t like it. They did. They even came back for seconds. But the Nashville, Tenn.-based chain sometimes had trouble explaining what was attractive to loyal customers when it came to enticing new diners.

“It is easy for Red Lobster, Olive Garden and Outback. If you say those names, there is a strong visual. They are very niche [concepts], such as family pasta or seafood. You know what they are,” explains Dawn Boulanger, O’Charley’s vice president of marketing. “We have a mixed menu, and that is part of what we are trying to do. But it makes it harder to create a strong emotional visual in our consumers’ heads. We can’t just come up with an example in five words or so.”

Rather than try to change the concept to fit in a convenient five-word box, Boulanger headed an effort to overhaul O’Charley’s branding strategy. While the concept has introduced new TV ads in the recent past (Chain Leader, August 2001), these were linked with an old idea of having fun with the fact that O’Charley’s is an Irish-sounding name but not an Irish restaurant.

The chain surveyed its consumers, using focus groups and one-in-one interviews, with The Buntin Group, O’Charley’s Nashville-based ad agency since 1996. The company even enlisted a consumer psychologist.

“We needed to do something new. We had been using the other campaign for years,” Boulanger says. “We did not want this campaign to look the same, but we needed to better understand what we needed to do to make it different.”

New spots offer little vignettes of life: fishing, roasting marshmallows over an open fire, raising a flag, walking the dog, eating at O’Charley’s with friends and family. The tagline is: Good Food and Good Times Start with O’.

Friendly and Dependable
Considering 9-11, the economic slowdown and concerns about war, O’Charley’s realized its consumers are not necessarily looking to be entertained but instead want places to eat that are friendly, familiar and dependable.

The resulting O’Charley’s campaign is the first to refer to the concept by the name locals have long used, “O’Chuck’s,” a term of endearment that also plays on the chain’s stock ticker symbol, CHUX. But that was far from the only change Buntin made. The firm tossed out the contemporary Celtic background music that tied in with the Irish theme and commissioned a new 2.5-minute piece of music as the base of new campaign, along with several sets of lyrics. Both the spots and the lyrics use the “O” as a visual and aural icon for the brand.

“Often music is the last thing to be developed,” says Jamie Dunham, executive vice president and managing partner at Buntin. “We were not looking for a jingle, but for music that communicates the approachability of O’Charley’s.”

Two versions of the music, each using different tempos, were created to be used in making commercials for seven different limited-time offers throughout the year. There are also two more general branding spots. The music will be paired with each of the promotions, depending on the mood of the event.

What’s in a Nickname?
The first of the branding spots aired in early January, paired with in-store materials, including t-shirts and copies of the “O” song on CD to play in the restaurants. While it is too soon to see the impact of the campaign on sales, the ad effort is already having an impact on employees, who, Dunham says, are requesting copies of the music and like the use of the O’Chuck’s nickname in TV.

“There are not too many concepts out there that you feel comfortable enough with to give it a nickname. It’s like if you go to best friend’s house, you don’t worry about the clothes you have on,” says Dunham.

Internally, the concept has been referring to the new attitude in the campaign as “O’ness,” something that stands for authenticity of the chain. O’Charley’s is spending an estimated $8 million in 2003 to spread O’ness, buying cable TV slots for the first time as well as airtime during primetime news and late-night television. Some smaller markets like Richmond, Va., in which the chain has restaurants but has never advertised, were added to the lineup.

The publicly held company plans to expand 15 percent to 20 percent annually, adding 26 to 28 units each year, by filling in existing markets and adding one new market each year. In 2003 that new market will be Kansas City, Mo., with a strong 25- to 54-year-old demographic that O’Charley’s typically attracts.

“This has been one of the most successful campaign rollouts I’ve ever worked on,” says Dunham. “There has been huge acceptance within the organization. And the success of a campaign is sometimes based on how true it is to the organization.”

Starts with O
Length: 30 seconds
1. Vocals: It's an o'town, on an o'night. 2. I'm in an o'mood, feelin' o'right.
3. Put on my o’jeans, put on my o’shoes. 4. Put on my o’jeans, put on my o’shoes.
5. Want some o’laughs with the o’gang. Send the day off with an o’bang. 6. Well, hey there, baby. Come on. Let’s go.
7. Where the good food and good times start with an o’. 8. Now tell me, honey, know you want to go to O'Charley’s. That's O'Charley's with an O’.

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