Sonic Restaurants― a highly successful nationwide chain of 3,500+ franchise and company-owned QSRs that serves three million people daily ― had three main objectives in 2001 when MPI was selected to handle Sonic’s national media buying:
- Grow brand awareness
- Compete nationally vs. market leaders such as McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Pizza Hut
- Grow the number of franchise-owned stores.
Leveraging our many years of experience in senior television network sales management, MPI was able to identify and negotiate buying opportunities that brought not only below-market rates but added-value features in prominent programming. For Sonic, the result was a huge increase in measured share of voice as well as accomplishment of their 3 main objectives. Below is a more detailed summary:
Working closely with the client and their creative agency, MPI developed an approach to promoting the Sonic brand through a focused effort in sports media in addition to general audience schedules. Sonic was looking to appeal to adults 18-49 with particular emphasis on men; sports advertising was just “the ticket.” The impact has been meaningful and long-lasting in terms of sales and Sonic’s ability to maintain favorable rates and highly coveted in-game positions.
Commercial spots were placed on a wide range of broadcast and cable television, with a balanced approach to reaching both a general audience and niche networks. Drawing on their unique experience as both sellers and buyers of television time, MPI was able to secure below-market ad rates on networks like CBS, ESPN, MTV, TNT, TBS, Discovery, USA, and A&E, plus a high frequency of billboards and enviable added-value features, many of which Sonic still owns today. When it came to basketball, Sonic didn’t just buy spots and dots. They sponsored the starting line-up feature during NBA games on TNT with their logo appearing on screen and announcers touting the Sonic brand. Sonic also sponsored half-time shows and even brought food from Sonic Restaurants into the television studio. Suddenly, Charles Barkley was talking about Sonic burgers on the air. Similar strategies resulted in the creation of “the Sonic Moment” on ESPN during each college and NBA basketball game with on-screen graphics and messaging plus exclusive opportunities in CBS’s SEC Football Game-Of-The-Week in which Sonic was the only quick-serve restaurant featured to a viewing audience well-targeted to Sonic’s primary geographic base.
MPI isn’t a public relations firm, but always does its best to negotiate for editorial placement for its clients. In the case of Sonic Restaurants, MPI secured prominent editorial coverage on CBS during NCAA Basketball Tournament and the regular season, and on Raycom Media. In addition, MPI negotiated tickets to high-profile events at no additional cost as part of Sonic’s media buys, which enabled Sonic to entertain valued franchisees in a high-touch way.
Sonic Restaurants was able to promote their brand and sell product nationally, while also growing franchises, through MPI’s carefully targeted media approach. Their “CBD and cable sports-focused” strategy for television advertising allowed them to place exclusive spots in powerful environments, where the Sonic message stood out loudly and clearly and, in many cases, blocked out major quick-serve restaurant competitors. Working with a marketing budget significantly smaller than those of its bigger competitors, Sonic was nevertheless able to leverage MPI’s relentless focus on added value to make a huge impact on their business results.
Bottom Line: Sonic Restaurants has enjoyed double-digit growth in both sales and additional franchises for seven straight years. Thanks to MPI’s early leadership and continued stewardship, Sonic was able to secure prime positions in high-profile television programs at a cost below today’s fair market value. Sonic’s president has attributed much of their increased share of mind and wallet to their sports advertising approach.
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