Denny’s is targeting the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population: Hispanics.

To reach this massive demographic, the Spartanburg, South Carolina-based chain has launched its first national online marketing campaign, in the form of a spoof video called “Skillet Whisperer,” featuring famed dog behavioralist, Cesar Millan, star of National Geographic WILD's 'Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan.’

Available in both Spanish and English, the videos, available respectively on YouTube and FunnyOrDie.comshow Millan taming an unruly Denny’s Sizzlin’ Skillet, from the chain’s new Sizzlin’ Skillets menu, which the video concurrently promotes.

The videos are Denny’s first foray into Hispanic branded entertainment and embracing more of the social world, says spokesman John Dillon, and they follow on from the chain’s celebrity web video series, “Always Open,” which ran last spring.

“The video program from last year was a huge hit with Millennials,” says Dillon, referring to customers aged between 20 and 30.

“The key benefit for Denny’s happens when viewers (typically Millennials) share these webisodes with friends and family via social media, allowing more people to see and relate to the brand in a new way. Denny’s is ‘Always Open’ to all audiences and demographics, but believes building loyal relationships with Millennials could help sales and build a foundation of guests for years to come,” he says.

Likewise, the Cesar Millan videos were designed to target younger Hispanics but, “as we started developing it, we realized it would appeal to all ages,” Dillon says.

“We very much hit on something last year,” he points out, “so that kind of inspired this campaign. We’re getting our brand and our food product out there but also entertaining people. We feel we’ve reached a nice balance. You can’t preach to people now; they do expect some level of entertainment so it’s a little riskier.”

More than one in five of Denny’s guests are Hispanic, and that figure is higher in certain areas like Florida, Texas, and California.

“We’ve been successful with our marketing and reaching them on a local and a national level but also we’re fortunate because our brand is an iconic American brand and one that acculturated and unacculturated Hispanics embrace,” Dillon says.

In the past six months, Denny’s has also appointed a Hispanic marketing agency, Casanova Pendrill, as part of its effort to more effectively reach the Hispanic community.

Denny’s latest program has not resonated well with Terry J. Soto, president and CEO of About Marketing Solutions, Inc. a Burbank, California-based consulting firm that helps companies be more relevant and effective among Hispanics.

Millan is too “general market material,” for this campaign, she says, adding that instead, Denny’s should be producing campaigns that speak to Hispanics relevantly.

But Casanova Pendrill feels it has found a good match in him and the campaign.

“Casanova set out to look for a fresh, unexpected connection for Denny’s Hispanic consumer, and we found it in Cesar Millan,” says the agency’s CEO, Ingrid Otero-Smart.

“Not only is Cesar energetic and funny, but he is very popular among the Hispanic audience in the United States—both English-speaking and Spanish-preferred Latinos are aware of him and admire his immigration story. Cesar came to the United States looking for a better life, without knowing a word of English, and in a decade has achieved the American Dream and success beyond his wildest expectations.

“Cesar’s image is wholesome and family-oriented, and his values are in line with the core attributes of the Denny’s brand: openness, warmth, comfort and familiarity.”

Soto also says that “Denny’s has been minimally committed to providing meal experiences that delight Hispanics of any age or language preference.”

But the restaurant company has many facets to its strategy of marketing to Hispanics, Otero-Smart points out.

“The Skillet Whisperer digital effort is only one element of Denny’s integrated strategy to reach Hispanics,” she says.

The program also includes Hispanic TV and radio media spend, Spanish-language menu and menu Inserts, Spanish-language kids’ and to-go menus, door window clings indicating Spanish menus available and FSI templates for local markets.

“We look forward to growing upon Denny’s strong relationship with the Hispanic consumer and increasing engagement with this audience in a new, fun and relatable way,” Otero-Smart says.

By Amanda Baltazar

Industry News, Marketing & Promotions, Denny's