Friday, July 17, 2009

Denny's After Dark

Not long ago, my SigO and I took a brief sojourn to the bucolic state of Maine. One of the highlights was our first-ever trip to Denny's, where we ate breakfast. It struck me as a rather benign, 50s-style diner, the kind of place you take the family, and grandpa thinks he's a comedian when he orders Moons Over My Hammy.

But, to quote the Lovin' Spoonful, we found out that, at night, it's a different world at Denny's. It's a place that would strike grandpa as being disgusting and weird, even unAmerican. It's a place with a keen rock star menu featuring gustatory delights suggested by the likes of Sum 41, Good Charlotte, Gym Class Heroes and, um Rascal Flatts (very cutting edge there, Denny's). It's a place that Denny's thinks will appeal to young people, particularly young stoners. And why not? Young stoners have to eat. And if the stereotypes are to be believed, they like to eat a lot.

But they have a very odd take on how to market to young people/young stoners. It's like they sat down in front of Adult Swim on the Cartoon Network and thought, 'hmm, stoners like absurd or surreal humor. Let's run with that.' How else to explain the recent series of ads that Denny's Allnighter - as its late night incarnation is known - has run?

The ads feature a guy called Gary sitting and eating with a Leprechaun in granny glasses, a dinosaur who thinks he's Animal from the Muppets, and a heavily sedated unicorn who says dude more often than Bill + Ted. Clearly, Denny's thinks young people/young stoners are 8-year old dino freaks, Irish and My Little Pony fetishists. Or, maybe they decided the unicorn was a good nod to Charlie the Unicorn, I don't know. Here's one ad:

And here's a more recent one where the dinosaur (Wade, if you must know), nattily attired in his Taking Back Sunday shirt, is the epitome of decorum as he gingerly nibbles on his nachos. Oh, who am I kidding. He slurps them up with a hideous, mucousy tongue the size of your head. Watch:

Look, it's not impossible to appeal to two different audiences. As I noted above, the relatively mild-mannered Cartoon Network changes into the wolfman that is Adult Swim and brays at the moon all night. If you like absurdity, like I do, you'll find that, by and large, the Adult Swim cartoons are appealing because they have a distinct voice and they are made by people who are clearly enjoying themselves, whatever you may think of the content.

But Denny's Allnighter effort is strikes me as that of a company seeking hipster credentials. So it adopts or adapts a trend or style that is popular and, in doing so, comes off as awkward, forced. Kind of like if Grandpa started wearing an Aqua Teen Hunger Force Shirt.

Sure there are positive comments on the Denny's Allnighter YouTube channel, but not many. Over a year after the company created its channel, they have 135 subscribers and 6,322 views. I'm not an expert, but those numbers don't suggest strong penetration.

Overall, the campaign seems like something that was concocted after an allnighter, one of those things you magically pull from your hindquarters at the last moment to save face. Or the kind of dream you have after a particularly bad meal. Though I can't speak with authority, I'm pretty certain stoners are more imaginative, and slightly more cutting edge, than this, Denny's.

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