Game Night ESPN Zone aims to bring families off the bench in its new TV ad campaign.
By Margaret Littman
How’s this for irony? A restaurant concept that shares a brand with a TV network and is owned by a giant media conglomerate hasn’t aired a new commercial in three years.
“When we first started, we needed to make sure that we communicated that ESPN Zone was closely affiliated with ESPN,” explains John Pierce, director of marketing, creative content and communications for ESPN Zone and Disney Regional Entertainment. “We had to do a lot of branding to communicate that you can get an ESPN experience here. The word ‘Zone’ does not say it is a restaurant, so our advertising was literal: There is a restaurant here, you can play games, buy merchandise.”
ESPN Zone created that first commercial in 2003 to be similar to a TV spot for SportsCenter, the flagship program of the ESPN network, with on-air talent and a slapstick style of humor.
Now the chain’s newest ad campaign, which hit airwaves (at least those owned by parent company Walt Disney Co.) at the end of February, focuses on the guest’s point of view rather than the restaurant, Pierce says. It abandons slapstick for something a little more clever, albeit still humorous, to draw more families to the chain.
2005 Systemwide Sales
$15 to $24
2005 Ad Budget
The Ballpark, Santa Monica, Calif.
1 in Los Angeles in 2009
*Technomic Inc. estimate; **Chain Leader estimate
A Mother Always Knows
Santa Monica, Calif.-based The Ballpark, ESPN Zone’s agency for the last four years, created the new campaign (but did not work on the previous TV ads). In the new ad, a mom calls her husband on his cell phone, checking in on how he and the kids are faring while she’s away on a business trip. While he assures her everything is OK and implies they’re happy at home, she sees them in the background of an ESPN broadcast with sportscaster Shelley Smith as she’s watching TV in her hotel room.
“The emphasis there was that a lot of dads really understand the experience and all that [ESPN Zone] has to offer. We needed to let moms know about all the fun activities and that there is something for everyone,” says Ron Luscinski, creative director and agency principal at The Ballpark.
That’s the real difference in the new message, says Pierce. It shows the “secret” about ESPN Zone: that it “is really a place for families. If your family is not into sports, odds are you do not know that,” he says. ESPN Zone is targeting families with younger kids, particularly tweens, kids ages 8 to 12 who aren’t old enough to go out alone but think of themselves as too “cool” to hang out with mom and dad.
“The stereotype is that dad’s in heaven. But it is also acceptable to mom,” Pierce says. “The food is better than she thought it would be.”
ESPN Zone’s marketing team and The Ballpark created the problem-solution scenario of the ad, highlighting ESPN Zone as the solution to where families should eat. Pierce hopes the commercial will help recast ESPN Zone from a special-occasion destination, with its average party size of 4.5 people, to a more everyday dining destination.
The spot is airing in 15-, 22- and 30-second versions on ESPN networks through the end of the summer. According to TNS Media Intelligence, ESPN Zone spent $452,000 in media buys for restaurant and bar promotion in 2005, as compared to $1.8 million in 2003, its last year on air.
Simultaneous online, radio and print ads do not convey the same message as the TV spots. Rather they cater to the local market. For example, the ads in Washington, D.C., focus on tourism and pitch ESPN Zone as a place where families can visit when they’re in town.
A Focused Game Plan
As a division of Disney, ESPN Zone does not release financial information separate from the total Parks and Resorts segment, which also includes theme parks. About 60 percent of ESPN Zone’s revenues are generated from food and beverage, the rest from games and merchandise. Chicago-based Technomic Inc. estimates 2005 food and beverage sales at $100 million.
The Ballpark is not currently charged with creating more spots for the campaign, in part because ESPN Zone’s growth plans are measured. The chain has eight units, with the ninth planned for Los Angeles in 2009. ESPN Zone units average 40,000 square feet and are in areas with significant foot traffic, according to Pierce, so there are limited proper locations for a new unit.
And despite being well bankrolled by parent Disney, it simply isn’t cost efficient, even though it owns the network, to buy national air time with just eight units.
Having pauses between your TV advertising schedule has some advantages, adds Pierce: “When you don’t do TV as often, it is really interesting to work on.”
“Mom’s Calling” Length: 30 seconds
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1. Father: It’s your mother. Hi.
2. Mother: Hi. How are you guys holding up without me?
3. Father: Uh, we’re OK. We were just watching a little TV.
Mother: Have the kids driven you nuts yet?
4. Father: No, we’re keeping ourselves entertained.
5. Mother: Jess said she’d help you with the dishes tonight.
6. Father: Well, the kitchen is spotless and dinner was great.
7. Mother: Wow. You should reward yourselves. Take ’em somewhere fun.