02 April, 2008

Sonic, Why Dost Thou Torture Me?

Okay, I found something new to hate—Sonic, you know the Oklahoma-based fast-food chain know as “America’s Drive-In,” home to hand-made onion rings and a variety of fresh fruit limeades. Why do I loathe this fast food chain with simple, humorous marketing and 168,894 potential drink combinations? Well, despite frequently observing commercials for their “Happy Hour” or Java Chillers, I can’t actually sample any of their delectable burgers or refreshing “Famous Slushes,” because, according to Mapquest, the nearest Sonic to my house in Baltimore, Md, is 90.23 miles away—in LANCASTER, PA.

(I should note that although I am a fan of Mapquest and use it all the time, they actually take no responsibility for the inaccuracy of any of their maps. So a Sonic could actually be around the corner and I might not even know it, like the Arby’s that’s been around the corner from my office for who knows how long. But check out the fine print at the bottom of the page I used to locate my "neighborhood" Sonic.)

So why in the blue blazes am I being advertised to by a fast food chain that it would take me longer to drive back and forth to than to make a 12 pound ham! (According to the fine people at Smithfield, a spiral cut glazed ham should be cooked for approximately 15 minutes per pound.) (Also, 12 pound hams are not available at Sonic…America’s Drive-In.)

This brings me back to a Baltimore car dealership we consulted with last year. They were spending a million dollars a year in broadcast advertising, hitting people more than 70 miles away, while people in their own neighborhood didn’t even know they were there.

Now, maybe this works in rural areas where new car dealerships might be few and far between, but in a major Metropolitan area where the nearest car dealership is probably only 10 minutes from your home, the only way you’d get me to drive 70 miles to go car shopping is if you were giving away a free car with my car. The same way I’m not gonna drive an hour to get fast food no matter how much cheese, chili or crispy bacon I can put on my SuperSONIC® Double Meat, Double Cheese SONIC® Burger…with bacon…and chili. Did I say cheese already?

Now I often talk about knowing who you’re advertising to, but it’s also important to think about where you’re advertising.

Media Buying: Broadcast vs. Cable Cross-Channel.

Broadcast works. You know an audience is there. Even at 4 a.m. in the morning, SOMEONE is watching a rerun of CSI: Miami, or Beneath the Planet of the Apes on the CW. But broadcast advertising is expensive, and you pay a lot of money to cast a very wide net. If you’re a big company, say Kraft Foods Inc., makers of delicious Country Time Lemonade, you’re advertising to a large market, and you can afford an expensive media buy. But say you’re a neighborhood lemonade stand, rubbing your nickels together to produce the finest fresh-squeezed lemonade on all of Maplewood Dr. Now you could spend thousands to drop your flyers on all of sunny Pleasantville, New Jersey. Or you COULD print a few dozen and leave them on your neighbors’ front steps, because they are the only people who are going to bother to stop by your lemonade stand…right now. (I’ve seen your business model, and in 20 years, you’ll be giving those Kraft goons what for.)

Broadcasting advertising is effective, and when you begin to grow beyond your local footprint, you’ll need broadcast to get your message further. But at times, broadcast can be like throwing an enormous net into water where fish just aren’t that hungry. Cross-channel advertising may not necessarily have such a wide net, but it does have tasty little hooks you can specifically aim at the fish much closer to your boat—and a lot of those hooks (that’s a metaphor for frequency, meaning you get more actual commercials for your dollar than with broadcast).

When you think about where you’re going to advertise, think about 1) your budget, and 2) where is your audience. Do you need to spend millions of dollars on your media buy, shooting for the far corners of the state? Or could you save a lot of money, taking closer aim at the people in your county, city or town.

I think my message here is pretty clear. Sonic, please send my free SuperSonic® Cheeseburger with hot chili and crispy bacon to:

co: Captain Awesome
10950 Gilroy Rd. Suite J
Hunt Valley, MD 21031

And thank you.

-Captain Awesome, Project Specialist

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1 others 'fessed up:

Anonymous,  April 10, 2008 at 2:45 PM  

Sonic is torturing random people up and down the East Coast. As a fellow Sonic-tortured soul, A limeade slurpee would be a nice thing to have in the vicinity of anywhere. Sonic needs to stop showing commercials in areas where they don't exist. Or build more Sonics.

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