Why Does SONIC Franchise Marketing Work?
Two Guys ad campaign establishes record brand awareness and loyal national fan base
When you open a SONIC® franchise, you automatically tap into the media influence of one of the most successful QSR franchise ad campaigns of all time. With a decade-plus history of making consumers laugh and crave SONIC, the Two Guys ad campaign catapults our brand recognition in all 50 states.
T.J. Jagodowski and Peter Grosz are the likable pair behind the Two Guys ad campaign, which made its television debut on October 1, 2003. The comedians were chosen from more than 150 actors who auditioned for the TV spots. T.J. and Peter got their start at Second City in Chicago, the improv theater where actors Tina Fey and Steve Carell got started, but it is SONIC that has defined their career. According to a recent study by industry research firm Technomic, SONIC advertising ranks third in a list of most effective advertising brands in the restaurant industry. This allows new franchisees to open in a community that already has high awareness of the SONIC brand and significant pent-up demand, leading to high initial traffic followed by sustainable return business.
“There has never been a better time to invest in SONIC because this contrast of national awareness of media on the one hand and available real estate on the other will never get better. From the investor standpoint, the open space, paired with having 12 months of ongoing media, is unmatched historically,” says CEO Cliff Hudson.
The Two Guys fan base is as loyal to the comedians as they are to their favorite SONIC menu items. In 2010, the Two Guys were dropped from SONIC’s national advertising campaign, but fans nationwide quickly reacted. Their 2012 comeback was epic, staged as a clever national social media publicity stunt featuring the duo pleading for their jobs. The hilarious campaign garnered national press, including coverage in The New York Times, solidifying the SONIC Two Guys campaign as one of the longest-running campaigns in history, as well as one of the most successful.
QSR Franchising: Awareness leads to pent-up demand in new markets
The power of a national cable advertising campaign, which is a large portion of our $200 million annual marketing budget, is brand recognition. Geographic regions that are not yet home to SONIC automatically recognize our brand.
“Awareness has built up already around Two Guys. People know who we are because of this long-standing campaign. They represent our humor and our fun, and they help deliver on the experience that we deliver. Our media is more effective because Two Guys is so effective,” says Vice President and Chief Marketing Office Lori Abou Habib.
SONIC has been migrating towards higher sales, higher customer retention and better returns. In fact, SONIC’s second-year customer retention rate has gone up 20 points.
“We’re not educating people anymore on what our brand is and how people can use our brand,” says Vice President for Real Estate & Development Johnny Jones. “We’re pulling that demand, rather than pushing that demand.”
National media recognition boosts ROI
Due to the national television campaigns, people in markets get to know our brand before a SONIC QSR franchise opens in their location. SONIC’s record brand recognition boosts media power and gives instant advertising dollar power to new restaurants in new locations.
“We’re in the top five market share advertisers in every market in the country,” Johnny says. “It really revolutionizes your ability to get a return on investment. Years ago, you had to build enough brick-and-mortar stores in a market so you could afford TV advertising. Today, even with a single store, we start out with high-end TV advertising before we even open the doors. This builds brand awareness nationally as well as locally and it does phenomenal things for you.”
Community involvement is a core part of our culture
At SONIC, our franchisees are closely connected to the communities in which they work. Our franchisees become involved with local schools and organizations, hosting fundraisers and giving back to the community as much as possible. It’s common to see SONIC-branded signs throughout our small-town locations, from little league park sponsorships to fundraising drives. Those close ties make our QSR franchises a common thread in the fabric of many small towns and help franchisees build a profitable business that invokes a sense of pride in the community.
“SONIC operators and franchisees who really get involved in their communities see a phenomenal return on that investment,” Johnny says. “We have a number of stores in smaller towns, scattered across much of the country, that do a pretty phenomenal amount of business. You ask yourself, ‘How do they make that work, in terms of the population? In terms of the traffic?’ A lot of that is because the brand has such relevance, but also because our franchisees and our operators have done such a great job of connecting with the community.”
We believe in giving back to our communities and have established system-wide programs such as the Limeades for Learning program, which has donated more than $9.5 million to local projects since 2009.
This national initiative was founded to support public school teachers in local communities. In partnership with DonorsChoose.org, we help provide essential funds needed for learning materials and innovative teaching techniques to inspire creativity and learning in today’s youth. Over the course of the three-week campaign held each fall, SONIC fans can vote daily on their favorite projects, and the projects with the most votes get funded each week. In 2015, we funded nearly 1,400 teacher projects that affect more than 41,000 students.